Stranger Things is an exercise of collective nostalgia and the secret to its success consists precisely in having found a shared memory which millions of people have in common and want to relive with this television series. The interesting thing about the phenomenon is that this memory is constructed from audiovisual experiences, from a collection of films that for many are an important part of their sentimental education. That’s why it can be argued that Stranger Things is not a nostalgic return to the 80s, but a nostalgic return to how cinema represented the decade and the kind of stories that were told on the big screen at that time. Stories that were often founded on the impossible. But the impossible becomes possible when the lights go down in the movie theater. And that’s the feeling Stranger Things strives to recreate and delight multigenerational audiences with.
Another trait of nostalgia is its imperishable nature. We’ve stored vital memories that are untouchable. We can fall back on them and they’ll be there, unchanged. In part, the nostalgic exercise is based on the comfortable feeling of returning to a universe, a cinematographic imagery that remains unchanged despite the passage of time. The television series was the perfect vessel for a nostalgic show given the medium’s capacity to build collective arcadias. However, the transformations series have undergone in recent years have meant that it is increasingly strange to make a show whose universe is unchangeable. Especially in Netflix series, which are designed to be consumed quickly, in which structures with horizontal plots weigh heavily. This places Stranger Things in a difficult situation: it has to evolve as a series, while at the same time, recreating the past.
The solution to this dilemma has produced a third season in which the same framework (monster appears, obstacles are overcome, monster is defeated) has been repeated and series creators have chosen not to delve into the mythology behind it but have been forced to introduce changes derived from the fact that the cast has grown. To do so, the show has resorted to a change of references within the imaginary of the cinema of the 80s, focusing on the genre of terror and the dynamics of teen movies. But while references to films by Carpenter, Romero and Cronenberg, among others, have worked very well due to the ability of the series to assemble the very best references possible, the romantic-adolescent storylines have meant the loss of an essential ingredient of Stranger Things: the relationships between the group of friends, who are now disappointed with each other and concerned about issues related to puberty that have dragged on excessively throughout the first three episodes.
It wasn’t until episode four when the fantasy storyline took center stage that Stranger Things regained the energy of the films it so dearly wishes to reflect. Banging the nostalgia drum compulsively has forged a path through the middle of season three, constructed from parallel storylines of varying degrees of interest. The highlight came on the home stretch, where the storylines come together in a final thrilling episode that manages to evoke the role models sentimentally. And Stranger Things is inspiring not when we hunt for this or that reference in a rational way, but when emotions overwhelm us just as they did when we first watched those movies back in the 80s. It’s in these few moments when Stranger Things really works: when it interweaves nostalgia, memories and series, transporting us to the big screen memories of our childhood.