Stranger Things: Season 3

strangerthingsWhile many hailed season 1 of this series as some sort of incredible phenomena I couldn’t really summon up much more than ambivalence towards it. It was absolutely fine, even good, but I failed to experience the magic that some others had. Season 2 faired even more poorly as I didn’t connect with either the characters or the plot. So I wasn’t particularly enthused by season 3. It did however perfectly match my mood for a weekend where I couldn’t summon the energy to really commit to anything and just wanted something to put on that I wasn’t really invested in and wouldn’t challenge me too much.

I’m not sure whether it was those changed expectations, or a change in the series, but I enjoyed season 3 a lot more than I remember enjoying the previous series. I think there was a bit of a change of scale, although the situation the kids found themselves in did end up being pretty serious, it didn’t feel quite as emotionally intense as previous seasons. It felt like there was time to breath and muck about, that interludes of teenage relationships weren’t just a distraction. In fact while the plot itself was absolutely fine (and less confusing than the whole upside down thing), it was these relationships that are the heart of the season.

These relationships covered the whole lifecycle of romance and friendship. There’s the initial flirting and crushes, first love, relationships moving beyond high school, marriages on the rocks and grown ups acting like teenagers circling round each other. There are also some beautiful moments of friendship, new pairings, changing relationships and even the sadness of groups that are drifting apart. There’s heartbreak and humour, silliness and real heart. All the actors are charismatic individually, and together, with some great additions to the cast and I really found myself enjoying spending time with them regardless of what they were doing.

Without spoiling, I will say that I wasn’t a big fan of the ending as I think it reverted a little to the darker side of storylines which I didn’t really want. I like the easy going adventure style, where although in the moment it seems perilous there’s a safety that nothing bad will really happen. The ending made sense, it wasn’t forced or anything, I just didn’t think it was really necessary and was disappointed that a season I’d enjoyed so much actually left me feeling sad.

Four Second Seasons and a Miniseries

There’ve been a few things over the last few months (or half a year – oops) that I have ailed to get round to reviewing. So in order to tidy them off the to-do list I’ve just quickly grouped them together and gathered some rather fuzzy recollections.

Dirk Gently: Season 2
If you liked the first season you’ll like the second, but if you didn’t like the first season you’ll probably like the second season even less. The storyline was even more wacky than the first, but I think it still made sense within itself if you really think about it, although to be honest I just let the whole thing wash over me. The overall effect is to leave you kind of numb and stunned, but in a good way. I think.

Preacher: Season 2
The first season had a momentum of insanity to it that really carried it through. The second season had almost the opposite. All I recall of it now is a lot of time spent in a rundown house with characters growling at each other. Oh, and an entirely separate thread involving Eugene and Hitler in hell, which seemingly had no interaction with the main storyline at all. I plodded through it because the actors are good, but I was completely disinterested in the story.

Jessica Jones: Season 2
I loved the first season of Jessica Jones. It had so many levels to it that I still think about the characters and the ethics of it now. So it’s particularly disappointing that about three months after watching season 2 I have absolutely zero idea what happened in it. After a bit of wikipedia-ing, some of it is now ringing bells, but none of them prompt any particular fondness or enthusiasm; it’s just fairly generic superhero story stuff, nothing particularly original or innovative.

Stranger Things: Season 2
I wasn’t nearly as blown away by the first season as most people seemed to be, and the same is true of the second season. It did at least go somewhere with the plot and commit to some of the ideas rather than endlessly hedging its bets, but I also found myself zoning out of the plot. For some reason I don’t really connect with the characters either, although the young actors are doing good jobs, I just don’t really like any of them enough to be really emotionally invested. It’s a solid series, but to me, it’s nothing particularly special.

Godless
It’s getting on for 6 months since I watched this miniseries on Netflix, but unlike some of the things listed above, it’s really stuck with me. I like TV based westerns a lot more than I like films, because I think they really benefit from getting more time with the characters and the feel of the town itself and that is particularly well done in Godless. The setting, characters and story all feel original, but also familiar enough to be comfortable; and the cast is absolutely superb. My only disappointment was that it was so short.

Stranger Things: Season 1

strangerthingsI watched the whole season of Stranger Things back-to-back one Saturday. That’s not actually as impressive as it might sound, as the first season is only 8 episodes/6 hours long, which really is more of a 10k than a marathon in my world. Still it was enough continuous television that my Netflix app on Xbox actually checked to make sure I was still actually present, or conscious. Or alive possibly.

Given that commitment to watching, you’d think my response would be something greater then “it’s good”, but that’s about all the enthusiasm I can sum up. It is entertaining, and certainly compelling enough that reaching for the remote to stop the autoplay wasn’t an attractive option. But when I think back on it, the words that spring to mind are all “damning with faint praise” type terms – competent, well put together, engaging; not words like spectacular, or revolutionary, or wonderful.

Part of the issue for me was the reliance on 80s nostalgia as part of the USP. Everything about the show was a throw-back to things like the Goonies, ET. The kids investigating an increasingly weird occurrence, the well meaning sheriff, it was all sort of non-specifically familiar to me. Maybe the problem is that I’ve re-watched many of those ‘classics’ from my childhood (actually being born in 1979, most of the 80’s was a bit early for me) and they don’t really hold up that well these days. So making that mental connection wasn’t necessarily acting in the show’s favour. Thankfully either as I got used to them, or as the plot gets into gear in later episodes, the references faded into the background a bit. All except the music. The tracks used were incredibly obviously linked to the events/emotions on screen in a way that was either funny or painful depending on your point of view. More than once I rolled my eyes or let out an audible sigh with the cheesy and obvious selections.

While the setting and style might not be to my taste, the nuts and bolts of the series work well. The story builds up nicely, the development and gradual reveals of the mysteries nicely paced out through the nicely restrained 8 episode run. The short season was an excellent choice as any longer and things would have felt way too drawn out. The characters likewise develop nicely over that time, with the large ensemble moving fluidly and gradually bringing the different groups together. The cast is superb, the four children all magnificent, and Winona Ryder delivering some devastating scenes.

In an era where more choice of television seems to be leading to more mediocrity, competent shouldn’t be overlooked and Stranger Things may not have resonated for me in the way that it clearly has for some, but it’s a well put together and satisfying show to watch even with the 80’s-ness of it all.