The first two episodes feel particularly bloated before the storytelling by the Duffer brothers and company settles into its groove. Even then, there are detours and subplots that could easily be jettisoned or trimmed, killing time as the show peels back the latest peril from the Upside Down and what might be done to stop it.
Of course, those completely enamored with the show might decide there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing, and “Stranger Things” — now unfolding in 1986 — rewards them with a fresh assortment of pop-culture references and homages, from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” to “E.T. the Extraterrestrial” to “The Silence of the Lambs” (yes, the movie didn’t come out till 1991, but never mind). There are also some new faces with genre underpinnings, among them Robert Englund, a.k.a. Freddy Krueger.
Lavishly produced, the fourth season seemingly ups the ante on cruelty and bullying as well, leveraging the vulnerability of its nerdy characters. At the same time, the soap-opera-ish elements of the relationships have begun to feel a trifle played out, or perhaps just overshadowed by the dire dangers facing the kids and indeed the world.
In what appears to be an effort to spread the hype (and subscriber satisfaction) over a longer period, Netflix has announced that it will withhold the two climactic episodes until July, creating another cliffhanger before viewers learn everyone’s ultimate fate. As is, these seven chapters total nearly nine hours, so anyone planning a weekend binge should budget accordingly.
Almost six years after its premiere, “Stranger Things” has achieved a place in the pop-culture firmament that helped elevate Netflix, so it’s understandable, even logical that the service and filmmakers would want to draw out its run.
That said, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt to hurry “Things” along a little. Because while there’s a fine line between Hawkins and the Upside Down, from a narrative perspective the portal separating epic from overkill can be just as narrow.
“Stranger Things” premieres the first part of its fourth season May 27 on Netflix.