There were times watching the new season of “Stranger Things” that I half-wished it was called “Ordinary Things.” No bloody deaths, no monsters, no secret government conspiracies — how about a show about the denizens of an ordinary Indiana town in the 1980s just going about their daily lives?
Because as Netflix’s flagship show has gone on, premiering its third season on July 4, I’ve grown a little less interested in the sci-fi/horror trappings of the show and more interested in the characters, who, thanks to a talented cast, are developing into engaging, complicated and often very funny people. Honestly, I’d watch the heck out of a sitcom called “Scoops Ahoy” that was just about the wacky hijinks at that mall ice cream shop.
But “Stranger Things” has to keep it strange, of course, as an homage to old Steven Spielberg movies and old Stephen King novels. This season, set in the week before Independence Day 1985, is certainly fun to watch, splitting up the show’s familiar characters into several “teams” each investigating a different mystery. The best storyline features those bickering Scoops Ahoy employees, Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke), who along with Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) try to uncover the meaning of a cryptic Russian broadcast.
Meanwhile, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) are interning for the chauvinistic editors at the local paper, tracking down rumors that rodents are exhibiting bizarre behavior — like exploding. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is finally enjoying life as a teenager while trying to find a missing lifeguard from the local pool, and bad-boy lifeguard Billy (Dacre Montgomery) has started acting awfully strange. Meanwhile, Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Hopper (David Harbour) are trying to figure out why the magnets in town seem to have stopped working, which brings them back to the abandoned government facility from the first two seasons.
The show skillfully cuts back and forth between these storylines at a brisk clip, making sure we’re never bored, and always keeping us wondering how these sinister strands will tie together at the end of the season. The ‘80s fashion, the synth-heavy score, the on-the-nose musical cues (Eleven shopping at the new mall to Madonna’s “Material Girl”) — not much has changed in “Stranger Things.”
What has changed is that the adorable kids of Season 1 have now grown into teenagers for Season 3. While Will (Noah Schnapp) struggles to see his friends splintering off to chase girls, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), the loyal Dungeons-and-Dragons friend of Season 1, has grown into kind of a snotty brat in the new season, mouthing off to Hopper. Parents of teenage kids may find this metamorphosis to be both the scariest and the most believable part of the show.
Less welcome is Hopper’s transformation into kind of a sloppy jerk in the new season, a potbellied, yelling creep who seems inspired by Ed Bundy on “Married with Children.” He gets something of a redemption arc by the end of the season, but as the show’s ostensible adult hero, he can be hard to take this season.
Lacking the narrative drive and the novelty value of the first season of “Stranger Things,” this third season is still a step up from Season 2. But it does feel a little disposable, like a paperback you consume obsessively in the course of an afternoon at the beach.
Also on streaming: If you like heist movies, watch BritBox’s “The Heist at Hatton Garden,” a four-episode miniseries premiering Tuesday, July 9, on the streaming service from BBC Studios and ITV. Timothy Spall (“Mr. Turner”) stars in this fact-based show about a team of retired thieves who reunite for one last job.
Lace up those thigh-highs in the comfort of your own home to enjoy “Kinky Boots.” The hit musical from Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein, about an unconventional plan to save a struggling shoe factory, comes to BroadwayHD on Sunday, July 15, in a hi-def broadcast from London’s West End.