‘Stranger Things’ returns in full force

The third season of the Netflix original series “Stranger Things” was released two weeks ago, and its return solidifies it as a modern-day classic.

A drama-horror-fantasy with a good dose of humor and romance thrown in, “Stranger Things” has captured the hearts of viewers since it first hit the small screen in 2016.

I wasn’t very satisfied with the series’ second season, but I liked it more than most shows in recent years, so I was still eager to see where season 3 would take us.

(Note: This review won’t include any major spoilers, but read at your own risk.)

The center point of “Stranger Things 3” is the Starcourt Mall, a new development that has arrived in the characters’ hometown of Hawkins, Indiana. The mall becomes increasingly more important as the season goes on, though at first it is pure 1980s aesthetic. It’s the perfect setting for diving back into this story.

One-by-one, we are reintroduced to our beloved characters. The teenagers are navigating their first romantic relationships; Jim (David Harbour) is conflicted over newly-adopted daughter Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) dating Mike (Finn Wolfhard).

Joyce (Winnona Ryder) is considering moving away for better prospects, while Nancy (Natalia Dyer) struggles to be taken seriously as a reporter for the Hawkins Post. Steve (Joe Keery) lands a job at an ice cream shop, and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) settles back into Hawkins after being away at summer camp.

Meanwhile, strange power fluctuations start occurring in the town. Residents begin acting strangely. Secret codes in Russian are picked up over radio.

The plot, as well as its suspenseful score and special effects, are solid this season. I found myself on the edge of my seat, biting my fingernails as Nancy crept along the halls of a hospital, with the lights overhead flickering and a monster on her trail.

But perhaps my favorite thing is the storyline of Steve, Dustin and Steve’s coworker Robin (Maya Hawke). The trio begins as a stumbling band of misfits and evolves into the perfect team, deciphering codes and escaping danger together. Robin is a wonderful addition, and her scenes with Steve are fantastic.

Unfortunately, certain main characters are shoved to the background. Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) hasn’t had much focus since the first season. I was also sad that after Will (Noah Schnapp) had one of the most emotional scenes at the start of the season, he was seemingly forgotten by the end.

But this often happens in shows with such a large ensemble. I hold out hope that these characters will get more time to shine in the future.

Many reviews have pointed out the blatant “evil Russians” trope that permeates the season. And while it did bother me at times, I think viewers need to remember that this story was set in the 1980s, when The Red Scare was still influential.

(It’s history, people; the 1980s weren’t just neon jackets and “Back to the Future.”)

Maybe it’s the nostalgia. Maybe its the stylish way it’s shot. Maybe it’s the memorable cast ranging in ages, drawing in viewers from various generations.

For whatever reason, “Stranger Things,” at least by the end of season 3, remains one of the best things on television.

Rating: 4/5