Along with shows like Euphoria† Ozarkand barry† Weird stuff suffered a major production deficit due to Covid. Those series have all come back pretty well in the past year, putting Netflix under a lot of pressure $30 million per episode flagship show. The season’s long wait, huge budget, and nine-hour runtime all beg the question: Will Weird stuff Season 4 (Part 1) live up to the hype?
The answer is – for the most part – yes.
The season kicks off six months after the bombastic, malltastic Battle of Starcourt, and our favorite ’80s ensemble is scattered across the country and the world. Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) has moved her sons Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Will (Noah Schnapp) to California, with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) in tow. The Hawkins crew has also split up at home, with Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) proud members of their high school’s Hellfire Club, a Dungeons and Dragons team led by super senior Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn). , while Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) has claimed some space in the popular crowd by playing for the basketball team. Max (Sadie Sink) still grapples with her brother’s death, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) applies to college, and Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke) cause trouble at a video store instead of an ice cream parlor. By the standards of this mystery gang, it’s all normal high school stuff.
Oh, and Hopper (David Harbour) is locked up in a hellish Russian prison, but otherwise pretty typical!
Of course, that’s exactly where everyone starts, and a mysterious new power from the Upside Down threatens the lives of everyone in Hawkins with a truly terrifying method of killing. He’s called Vecna, an evil wizard who casts evil curses on his victims, and his character design and acts of violence earn some of the show’s best horror work.
The Duffer Brothers do a really good job of weaving characters into each other’s stories and bringing some big players back to the group. The return of Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) threatens to be a cheap throwback, but his and Dr. Adding a lot of depth to the story, Owens (Paul Reiser) sets the stage for some bold dramatic set pieces and a hair-raising new villain. One of the most welcome parts of this season is the urge to dig into Elf’s backstory to see if she’s the superhero her friends revere, or a monster who can’t contain herself. There’s a gradual unraveling of emotions and memories that keep the character one of the most intriguing aspects of the show, and Brown shows remarkable range and intensity throughout this acting obstacle course.
Perhaps it is not the most astute observation to say that what? Weird stuff does best is the same thing that made it such a hit five years ago. Steve, Robin and Dustin are an undeniable dream team on this show, and their clumsy cabal is joined by Max, Nancy and Lucas as they try to defend newcomer Eddie from a more tangible force of evil than they’re used to. Seven characters leave enough for this one subplot to juggle, but it’s always the most entertaining, engaging, and emotionally charged part of these episodes. It may seem unwise to introduce a major new character in the final season (and it is for this show in many other cases too), but Eddie is a delightful addition that brings out some of the other teens’ best quirks. Nancy and Robin team up multiple times to be the girl and gay best friend we never knew we needed; Max faces certain death, but is saved by the power of friendship and Kate Bush. This is where the show shines.
Of course, not all subplots are created equal. As those kids romp to solve a series of murders, another group of Hawkins labels them and their affinity for fantasy stories as characters of the devil; there’s a satanic scare storyline here that may be true to the 80s setting but seems to have been ripped straight from it Riverdaleand it remains welcome as it threatens to spill over into the show’s final two episodes later this year.
Several confusing choices are made around some of the series’ most beloved characters, the most eye-catching of which revolve around Hopper. Everyone’s favorite sad dad is stuck in a Soviet prison, and while there are glimpses of him every episode, his on-screen presence doesn’t make much sense until halfway through the season. Although he is involved in a pretty sick fight scene in the final episode, Hopper usually drags himself around in the snow, gets beaten by guards and repeats the same hopeless hoopla in melodramatic monologue. It’s repetitive and, frankly, a bit of a waste of Harbor’s time and talent. Unfortunately, the story of Joyce and Murray (Brett Gelman) hinges on a nebulous mission to rescue Hopper, so they too are swept away.
The less that is said about the California Byers (whom Mike will be joining over spring break), the better. The guys who were once integral to the show’s story barely have a purpose this season as they inexplicably occupy genres ranging from stoner comedy to political thriller. This season struggles to find that kind of balance; one minute we’re looking at an 80’s era Pineapple Express †Fast times at Ridgemont High it is not), and the next we are in some kind of Russian John Wick (it’s also not red heat†
Altogether, Weird stuff Season 4 is pretty good. Sometimes even quite great. It uses every last cent of that mammoth budget to create some of the best audiovisual moments on TV in recent memory, and many of the actors are bringing their A+ game to these penultimate episodes. It suffers from an identity crisis at times, but when it goes back to the basics of ’80s teen horror (whether that’s high school or a murder monster), it’s nothing short of spectacular.