What I'm Watching: Stranger Things S3, We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Stranger Things is the very definition of half-assed. They're trying to do "how cool was it to be a kid in the '80s", and it was VERY cool, but most of the people involved weren't even alive then, and they are unable or unwilling to take enough cocaine to really commit to it. They play D&D, but didn't live thru the Edition Wars, where those of us who played OD&D fucked off when Gary's polearm and rules fetishes ruined AD&D, Frank Mentzer's revisionist BECMI baby-fied the Basic branch, and accusations of Satanism were thrown at us constantly (never mind that I actually gamed with teenage Satanists (which I took no more seriously than the Christfuckers, I was even then a Cthulhu cultist and thought Satanists were amateurs), and we mostly played Champions, Stormbringer, and Rolemaster, because those are serious games). They sing along to top-40 songs, but not the hard-rockin' hard-fuckin' songs, but pop movie themes. The fashion is so far toned down from reality it's really depressing; yeah, Indiana was uncool and years behind, but I was a nerd in Idaho which is just as uncool and I wore pastel faded blue jeans and black leather jackets. Nobody in this has Ray-Bans, which were on like 90% of the eyeballs. Fat Rambo Hopper puts on the most faded-out Hawaiian shirt possible, and everyone in the show is like "WHOAH, look at him!" when in reality he was bland as the mayonnaise he guzzles straight from a jar. The Max/El dress-up routine did manage to hit the Osh-Kosh-B'Gosh look and she stayed in bright colors for a while.

So, S1 was pretty much a Steven King's Firestarter/Escape to Witch Mountain mashup, and ended on a down note but it's OK. S2 at least closed a few plot holes and the Hellmouth, but meanders all over with a visit to mom, a visit to punk rock girl, Hopper failing at being a "dad" to El.

S3 then has nowhere to go except over the top, with a giant slime monster possessing people and climbing a mall like a King Kong made of shit, and somehow having "Russians" show up and build a giant underground base. Which looks nothing like Soviet architecture or engineering, it's all shiny surfaces and big open spaces, when the real Soviets liked claustrophobic bunkers and dull industrial paintjobs. And nobody calls them Soviets, the show is all "Russians" or "Russkies"; we said those, but mostly Soviet, because not all Soviets are Russian! They'd be just as likely to be from throughout the USSR or Warsaw Pact. Dumbass writers. And the notion that Fat Rambo Hopper, drunk loser hillbilly cop, can fight a Spetsnaz soldier like the terminator and win/even have a chance is preposterous. This season's monster plot relies on Eleven solving all problems with superpowers, everyone else is just there as a distraction; at least the B-plot of the Soviets has normal kids doing the Red Dawn/MacGyver kind of thing.

Probably as an overreaction to the sausage festival + El of S1 & S2, almost everyone gets a girlfriend in this season, but other than Max they're useless. When the party of kids goes wandering single-file door-to-door, I think of Earthbound games where you'd be followed by a centipede-like trail of your party members.

★★½☆☆ — just not enough meat in that corn-dog.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, adapted from Shirley Jackson's fantastic novel, is lovely, slow, gothic, oppressive, creepy… Merricat and Constance are well-cast for the "creepy witch girl who acts like an old maid" and "Marilyn Munster but even more insane". Uncle Julian, Cousin Charles, and Helen the fussy "friend" are fine… Charles is a creep, like Brad Pitt fucked Steve Buscemi and gave birth to this thing; I don't really buy Constance's quick affection for him in this portrayal, he's too sharp-edged. Julian's too repetitive and often just hard to take, which is how someone that damaged would be. The villagers are awful people, but only about half of them are the hideous caricatures they seem to be in the book.

I hadn't even heard of the film being made & released, discovered it at $9.99 on iTunes, grabbed it instantly. Not a perfect adaptation, the ending adds a little flourish which is not present in the book, but charming nonetheless.

★★★★★

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