Stranger Things, Netflix

Time being precious these days it’s the reviewer’s lot to have to rush to judgement on a drama series based on the first episode alone. Viewing the entire run is a luxury we scribblers can rarely afford though I’ve made an exception for Stranger Things, the surprise cult hit which has done more than any other drama to make Netflix the go-to provider for streaming services. One long binge later I’ve emerged from the rabbit hole with the verdict: could do a little better – and probably will if the final episode’s maddeningly ambiguous coda is played out to its full potential in series four. And make no mistake, there will be a series four: sibling creators Matt and Ross Duffer have promised us that much at least.

Series three continued the over-arching theme of the first two series – a monster has been loosed from a parallel world the government knows about and only a bunch of kids in Hawkins, Indiana can stop it – but threw in more of what the fans wanted, namely 1980s fashions (those shorts!), 1980s music and extravagantly glossy 1980s haircuts. It also ferried in a second load of baddies in the shape of a fifth column of Russian soldiers. Somehow these Russians had managed to build a James Bond villain super-lair under Hawkins’s zingy new Starcourt Mall, where Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) was now working in an ice cream parlour called Scoops Ahoy and sparring with smart-ass co-worker Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke), a new character, and 10-year-old customer Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson), sister of Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin). Lucas is one member of the now-familiar crew of kids who would once again had to save Hawkins, the others being Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Will (Noah Schnapp), Max (Sadie Sink) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), whose psychic powers have come in very handy so far.

Half the fun of Stranger Things is spotting the old horror film references. The mall setting and a subplot in which the townspeople became zombified gave us Dawn Of The Dead and Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers and in the relentlessness of the Russian hitman on the trail of police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and Will’s mother Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) we had Robert Patrick’s T-1000 killing machine in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

The character development is interesting, too. Steve Harrington, he of the great hair, was a bit-part player in series one but is now a firm favourite, hence his starring role here. Robin looks like she has some way to go as well. Meanwhile Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven, such as startling feature of the first series, faded a little in season three, with Matarazzo’s Dustin coming to the fore. And as usual, Will had virtually nothing to do.

In short, this felt a little like the Duffer brothers catching their breath and moving the pieces into position for a one or two series finale which will end Stranger Things for good. Probably, anyway.