Netflix hasn’t had a great year.
Stranger Things Season 4 should represent a beacon of hope for the service because the decision to split the season into two parts might well entice people who have left the service to return for two months.
The good news is that the Duffer brothers deliver another addictive outing with Stranger Things Season 4.
After an almost three-year wait between seasons, a lot is riding on the newest batch of episodes to impress viewers. After watching the first seven episodes, the series forges a new and notably darker path.
Thematically, Stranger Things has always been dark, complete with glimpses of light.
Stranger Things Season 4 is shrouded in darkness throughout all seven chapters screened for critics as the characters face very different hurdles than before.
We pick up with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) trying to deal with her new life in California. It’s been six months, and she desperately wants to make friends.
Unfortunately, it’s a challenging endeavor. Eleven formed a bond with her initial group of friends because of the way the world pushed them together.
They were bonded for life. Other students have no ties to her in California, so the teenager faces an uphill battle as she tries to come to terms with the past to solidify her future.
Joyce (Winona Ryder), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and Will (Noah Schnapp) are also in California when we pick up, and much like Eleven, there are growing pains to this new life.
The season does kick off with an eight-minute segment that creates more questions than answers, setting the tone for the drama ahead.
The series manages to jump between the storylines in Hawkins and California with ease, giving them the appropriate amount of screentime.
The drama in Hawkins is as crazy as ever, and fans will connect with Max’s (Sadie Sink) struggle following Billy’s death. The past haunts her, and there’s no easy way for her to move on with her life.
Bouncing back following a traumatic incident is difficult, and it’s clear everyone on Stranger Things is battling some sort of demon. Whether metaphorical or physical, you’ll need to tune in to find out.
This season’s other central location is in Russia, and unfortunately, the storyline lasts much longer than it should.
There are many positives to checking back in with Hopper (David Harbour), but he’s a changed man after spending so much time away from the people he loves.
There were plenty of questions at the end of Stranger Things Season 3 surrounding what happened to our favorite Sheriff, and thankfully, the series does deliver answers.
The caveat here is that we spend far too much time on the Russia arc that it starts to feel like it’s taking valuable screen time away from the other more exciting plots.
The writers should have taken a less is more approach to Hopper this season to expand upon the mystery of what happened to him.
In hindsight, it’s probably one of the worst storylines in the series’ history, and I say that as a fan since day one.
It wouldn’t be Stranger Things without ’80s nostalgia and horror elements, and plenty of that is on full display throughout the seven episodes.
The strongest aspect of Stranger Things has always been the acting.
The cast consistently delivers strong performances. The series does suffer from pacing issues around the halfway mark, primarily due to Hopper’s plot.
Stranger Things Season 4 doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessors, but it is still much better than your typical TV show.
Stranger Things offers something different to viewers, and it continues to do so throughout its fourth season.
Check out the trailer, and be sure to return to TV Fanatic episodic reviews when the season drops.
Paul Dailly is the Associate Editor for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.