“Stranger Things” Season 4 is set to premiere in 2022, nearly three years after the previous season’s release. Though this is in part due to the pandemic, fans of the incredibly popular Netflix show are left waiting, and a shift in the audience’s interest is imminent.
When Season 4 rolls around, what additional elements can save the show from losing its viewers’ attention?
A Global Phenomenon
When “Stranger Things” was released in the summer of 2016, it quickly became known as one of Netflix’s best original shows. Filled with ’80s nostalgia and a blend of captivating twists, the show caught the attention of a wide range of viewers and showed immense promise for upcoming seasons.
The first season is set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, in 1983. After the disappearance of young Will Byers, a girl named Eleven with telekinetic abilities appears in his place. The winding mystery causes Will’s friends to investigate alongside his mother and Hopper, the Hawkins chief of police.
Throughout the rest of the season, three sets of characters — Will’s middle school friends, their teenage siblings and other trusted adults — set out on separate paths. Every trail ultimately leads to the same connected conclusions about Will’s disappearance to the Upside Down, Eleven’s telekinetic powers and the dark involvement of the Hawkins lab.
In no time, the show created by Ross and Matt Duffer was an overwhelming success. Despite its creators’ relatively sparse track record, the first season was Netflix’s biggest hit when it debuted. The latest “Stranger Things” season reached a record 26.4 million US viewers within its first four days, and 40.7 million global household accounts watched the show over the season’s debut weekend. With every new season, the series is deemed Netflix’s most-watched show, and it’s no secret why the show has remained popular for so long.
One Perfect Season
One of the many factors behind the show’s immediate success is the character development. Most of the main characters organically evolve from generic ’80s characters into realistic people the viewers can root for. The show’s kid and teen characters work incredibly well together, as they are believable on multiple levels. Not only are they portrayed by a young cast similar in age to the characters, but the characters are also portrayed in a true-to-life way. They’re flawed and human figures with endearing traits, relatable to contemporary young viewers and those who grew up in the ’80s as well.
A great example of character development in “Stranger Things” is Steve Harrington’s progress. Throughout the first season, he transforms from a bully and entitled jock to a supportive friend, and his development gets even better in the following seasons.
Additionally, “Stranger Things” can reach a wide range of viewers through the multiple genres it incorporates into its storytelling. The show itself is a horror series, coming-of-age story, mystery and adventure rolled into one major storyline. What makes this blending of genres work is that the show is careful to not rely too heavily on any one particular genre. Instead, it pulls well-known elements from all of them to create an engaging story, in addition to adding unexpected genre-based twists. Combined, this distinct approach to genre appeals to those who would not normally choose to watch a horror or mystery show.
While the series features several individually intriguing characters, “Stranger Things” excels at portraying group dynamics when these characters come together on the screen. The three main character groups — especially the kids — are phenomenally cast and bring a great sense of heart and humor into the show.
The way the characters interact with each other feels real and endearing, in contrast to shows that often feel more focused on special effects and other “wow” factors. People care about the “Stranger Things” characters and come back to see their progress. Though group dynamics have remained an important aspect of every “Stranger Things” season, these dynamics were particularly delightful to watch at the beginning of the show.
Despite these initial promising features, the following seasons have lacked the first’s near-perfect use of character development and genre-defying elements. Millions of fans remain loyal to the series, but to maintain their satisfaction with the show’s quality, Season 4 will require the show to harken back to its glory days.
The Unclear Future
Season 3 of “Stranger Things” received positive reviews, and was especially praised for its bright retro colors and energetic cinematography. However, it seemed to be the weakest out of the three thus far.
Critics have called Season 3 “the show’s silliest and most convoluted yet,” while also pointing out the poor execution of ideas throughout. Indeed, while Season 1 follows a few focused plots and subplots until the season finale, Season 3 follows too many new character groups and individuals as they work on their separate goals. It can become difficult to care about the various plotlines in each episode. Pulling the audience in so many directions degrades and limits the show’s moments of mystique and suspense. These moments are major aspects from the “Stranger Things” debut that are now almost obsolete in the most recent episodes.
Another reason why Season 1 worked so well was because of its constant sense of mystery, for both the characters and viewers, but most of it is gone by Season 3. In the first season, the characters had no idea what was going on as they continued to learn about the Upside Down and the dangerous demogorgons. The audience learned along with them every step of the way. This storytelling technique helped feed into the show’s “fear of the unknown,” an incredibly human fear that is usually provoked when someone lacks knowledge about something they are facing.
Just as the characters were incredibly frightened of what could happen to Will or the Upside Down in Season 1, the audience was completely in the dark about such situations as well, creating a suspenseful connection between the story and the viewer.
In contrast, the characters have learned everything they need to know by the third season and act more like invulnerable heroes than average kids. Most of the season’s new mystery elements are fed to the audience shortly after the introduction, causing the audience to be in on secrets that the characters are unaware of.
Though this could work in other shows, such lazy reveals are sub-par for “Stranger Things” standards, because the audience is no longer as connected to the characters. In other words, Season 3’s early reveals pull the audience out of the mystery, and instead take away the show’s sense of intrigue.
Season 4 is already falling victim to this problem again, as the recent trailers show spoilers for what could have been a major plot twist. The show may have more tricks up its sleeve, but the early reveals are not a great sign.
While the first season is tightly focused and planned out, the following seasons are less so. Perhaps this is due to behind-the-scenes changes to the overall plot. For years, the Duffer brothers hinted that “Stranger Things” would conclude after four seasons, but now it seems that the show will most likely stretch out over a total of five or even six.
Although this news could be thrilling to some fans, many shows on Netflix and other services have fallen into the trap of creating too many seasons to please the viewers rather than producing a fully fleshed-out story. By adding one or two seasons to the conclusion of “Stranger Things,” the planned ending could become lost or muddled under the already growing number of sub-plots.
Season 1 was an incredible start to the show, and hopefully, the next season will follow in its footsteps by implementing genuine elements of mystery and heartfelt character dynamics once again.
True to The Past
In the end, the next season has a lot of backtracking to do, but since the show is still successful at telling its core story, there’s not too much to worry about. Surely, the creative minds who made it so spectacular in the first place can still pull together a fantastic last two seasons full of the unexpected.
To maintain the hearts of its current audience, “Stranger Things” Season 4 must use the same techniques seen in the show’s beginning; and to continue its initial claim toward originality, the next season will have to go above and beyond the strangest things the show has ever pulled off in the past.