Stranger Things continues to be a visually attractive show, with the new Starcourt Mall chief among the fascinating new locations. The colorful shopping center is a shining beacon for ’80s clothing and food-court nostalgia. Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), the two-time winner of IGN’s Best TV Hair award (just kidding), is working at Scoops Ahoy as an ice cream dispenser. He’s going through some growing pains of his own, struggling to win over the ladies with his charm. But as hilarious as it is to watch Steve awkwardly flirt with girls at the mall, it’s his co-worker, Robin (played by newcomer Maya Hawke), who steals the show.
While it’s tough to compete with the epic Dustin/Steve bromance that was established in Season 2, Robin holds her own against Steve’s cockiness, often challenging him in unexpected ways. The daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke definitely has the chops to stand toe-to-toe with the best of Stranger Things’ ensemble.
Season 3 also isn’t afraid to get sentimental when it needs to. Winona Ryder is still excellent in her portrayal of Joyce Byers, as her character begins to experience PTSD as a result of the tragic events of Season 2 that led to Sean Astin’s Bob Newby being killed at the Hawkins Laboratory. Thankfully, Chief of Police Jim Hopper (Hellboy’s David Harbour) is still there to make her laugh from time to time – their banter is one of the high points of the new season.
Hopper may have gone through adolescence long ago, but he’s still going through a transformation of his own, quickly learning that it’s no easy task raising a teenage girl… Especially one who can slam doors with her mind. Hopper and Eleven’s developing father/daughter dynamic was one of the strongest storylines of Season 2, and it appears that the Duffer brothers are picking up right where they left off. Harbour and Brown have such good chemistry with one another, it’s hilarious to see Hopper taking on the over-protective dad role and attempting to intimidate Mike.
The only worrisome aspect of the premiere is the sizable growth of Stranger Things’ ensemble. While Maya Hawke’s Robin makes an instant impact, series regulars Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) feel inconsequential compared to the rest of the cast. Sure, there are still 7 episodes left to expand their respective storylines, but with charismatic veteran actors like Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) and Jake Busey (Starship Troopers) joining the team, one has to wonder if there’s enough story to go around? Time will tell.