Stranger Things 3

Stranger Things 3 (Netflix)

Arriving with minimal fanfare in 2016, Stranger Things’ winning mix of sci-fi horror and yearning childhood nostalgia created an overnight global sensation.

The premise – top-secret government experiments in the backwoods of the American Midwest unleash hellbeasts from another dimension over the picket fences of 1980s Indiana – owed a large debt to Stephen King and John Carpenter. But above all it was an unashamed love letter to the early films of Stephen Spielberg, fronted by a gang of spunky juvenile leads who could have pedalled straight out of a frame of E.T. or The Goonies.

After some grumbles about the second series treading water, this third run shakes off the show’s Halloween chill in favour of long, hot summer frights. It’s 1985, and school’s out… for horror.

The other major key change is the kids themselves, as Stranger Things enters its John Hughes phase, with the scary stuff framed by a rites-of-passage tale of sexual awakening and the end of innocence. Or at least, it is for some of them: as his friends start busting out in pimples and making out with girls, Will (Noah Schnapp) wonders plaintively why they can’t go back to playing Dungeons and Dragons, ‘like we used to’.

The blossoming romance between Mikey (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is proving a particular headache for the latter’s adoptive father, gruff police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour). Raised as a lab rat by wicked scientists who wanted to exploit her psychokinetic powers, Eleven is now turning into a proper, door-slamming teenager. The only difference being she can slam them with her mind.

Meanwhile, the Cold War is about to intrude into this summer of love, as Soviet scientists conjure dark forces from beyond the veil (think Chernobyl, with monsters).

What lifts all this above the standard creature feature fare is its huge amounts of charm. For all its moments of gory, visceral horror, there’s a warmth and generosity of spirit to the show that means, far from coming across like a bad cover version, it succeeds in bottling something of that patented Spielberg magic.


TV extra:

 

Eight Days: To the Moon and Back (BBC2)

If, like me, you grew up taking the idea of men on the moon for granted, this astonishing, immersive 50thanniversary documentary should put you right. Matching the real astronauts’ voices to dramatised reconstructions – along with original footage of CBS News’ ‘color coverage’ (sponsored by Kellog’s) – its cockpit-eye view of that giant leap for mankind is as close to stepping on the Moon as any of us are likely to come. Genuinely awe-inspiring.

 

Charley Pride: I’m Just Me (BBC Four)

As man was reaching for the moon in the 1960s, others were conquering new frontiers back on Earth. Charley Pride was the Mississippi cotton pickers’ son who became the first black superstar of country music. His label, RCA, were so nervous, they sent his first single to radio stations without a picture, but the man himself knew all he needed to do was play, and audiences ‘wouldn’t care about no pigmentation’. At a robust 85, he’s still living up to his name today.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, 11 July, 2019

(c) Waitrose Weekend