On the 27th of May, Netflix released the first part of Stranger Things: Season Four. The renowned series resembles a supernatural, horror thriller; following a group of friends in 1980s Indiana. After the disappearance of Will Byers in Episode One, Stranger Things delves into the mysterious forces that reside within the fictionalized town of Hawkins, Indiana. These include supernatural monsters, secret experiments, and government exploits. Upon Season One’s initial release in July 2016, Stranger Things quickly became one of Netflix’s best-reviewed and most popular shows.
In fact, according to ratings from Symphony Advanced Media, the show averaged an audience of 14 million within its first 35 days. At the time, only Fuller House and Orange Is the New Black drew larger demographics. The excitement surrounding Stranger Things – as well as its cult fanbase – continued to grow throughout each season’s launch.
However, despite its success – watched by 64 million households in the first four weeks of release – Stranger Things Season 3 proved divisive. Critics argued that Season 3 had lost some of the show’s original charm; straying too far from the series’ initial horror, thriller, and psychological elements, into a nostalgia-reliant teen drama.
By the end of the series, many fans also felt distanced from the show. Key characters – who had already been side-lined – were ultimately removed to Russia and California, clashing with one of the show’s initial appeals; the rural, suburban setting of Hawkins. After Season 3’s arguably ‘lukewarm’ response, the largest break between seasons began.
In 2020, the show’s crew faced extensive setbacks due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Once filming could finally be resumed, re-shoots were also required owing to Stranger Things’ aging cast of child actors. Finally, safety concerns, the use of multiple locations, and lengthy post-production also contributed to the three-year gap.
I initially feared the wait between 2019 to 2022 for Season 4 would destroy the show’s momentum. Nevertheless, Stranger Things Season Four became Netflix’s most-watched English-language TV show, surpassing 781 million viewers in under three weeks. In addition to viewership statistics, Season Four has also been cited as the show’s best season to date; certainly a stark contrast to the lukewarm reviews of its predecessor. In my opinion, one of the most striking things about Season 4 is the visuals.
According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Netflix’s budget spared no expense, and Season 4 cost roughly $30 million for each episode. As a result, the show looks incredible, with gorgeous cinematography and thrilling CGI. Notably, this season’s central villain – Vecna, was created through real makeup and prosthetics.
Though most of the story takes place outside of Hawkins, the addition of new characters created equally engaging subplots. Jonothan’s new friend Argyle, with his philosophical persona, delivers some of the season’s funniest anecdotes, and Tom Wlaschiha’s Dmitri – and his alliance with Hopper – proves vital to their escape from Russia and the confidence between the pair reveals each character’s darkest and most personal secrets. Most notably, with his over-the-top delivery and humorous appeal; countering the overarching trauma of Hawkins, Eddie Munson is universally loved and has become a new fan favorite.
The show’s structure of multiple sub-plots also enables a kaleidoscope of different styles, each complementing one other. The cast in California allows for light-hearted comedy, whereas the events within Hawkins offer a detective crime drama. Hopper’s Russian escapades provide a gritty, prison atmosphere, and Eleven reviving her powers contributes to the show’s science-fiction genre.
The impact and success of Season Four’s release are perhaps most evident in the rhe song soared to number one in the UK, Norway, Sweden, Australia, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Austria, as well as finally earning Bush her first-ever top 10 hits in the US.
Most importantly, Season Four’s cliff-hanger ending raised the show’s stakes, and Part 2’s release on the 1st of July proves that the show still has a lot of questions that need answering.