Television Man | Aidan Morgan | June 9, 2022
“Ask not what channel you can tune your television to, ask what channel the television is tuning you to” — John F. Television
Mild spoilers for Stranger Things and Obi-Wan Kenobi follow
After three years of waiting, in which fans twiddled their thumbs, drew fan art and kept their Netflix subscriptions alive like hungry tamagotchis, the fourth season of Stranger Things dropped. Well, most of it. The final two episodes (termed “Volume 2” by creators The Duffer Brothers) are being held in reserve for July 1, when they will be rolled out on silver platters for a desperate public.
What did we get for our patience? We sure got more Stranger Things. I’m willing to bet that if you liked the first three seasons of Stranger Things, you’ll love season four. Which is similar to the bet that Netflix made back in 2016, when they hoped that if you liked John Carpenter-slash-Stephen King horror with a dash of Amblin nostalgia, you’d love season one.
Season four is particularly invested in reminding viewers of the good old days (season one, not the ’80s), sprinkling in callbacks and flashbacks whenever possible while upping the stakes, villain-wise. Season one’s Demogorgon is now a minor player in the drama surrounding a fellow named Vecna, who hangs out in the Upside Down with a bad case of eczema. Vecna occasionally invades the minds of unhappy teenagers for entertainment. Maybe there’s no Netflix in the Upside Down.
There’s not much particularly new in season four, if you don’t count the uncanny feeling of watching 20-year-olds pretend to be 14-year-olds. What’s definitely new is the extended length of the episodes. The shortest lands at an already bloated one hour and three minutes, while the longest comes in at one hour and 38 minutes. The final episode of the season is supposed to run for two hours and 30 minutes.
“Great,” you may be thinking, “more runtime means more Stranger Things!” Well, yes. And no. Mostly no. The Duffer Brothers cleverly make up for the extended length by padding scenes, slowing pacing to a torturous crawl and spacing out each new beat until you want to march around with a cardboard sign saying “Vecna was right”. Episode seven is particularly guilty of this crime against attention spans, cutting between four stories to delay answers to questions you’ve probably already figured out.
Speaking of nostalgia, the Obi-Wan Kenobi series is well underway on Disney+. The story they’ve spun is a serviceable framework for the real fun, which is watching Ewan MacGregor babysitting a young Princess Leia around the galaxy — nah, just kidding. It’s Darth Vader! Is he more machine than man now, twisted and evil? You bet he is! Bodied by Hayden Christensen and voiced by James Earl Jones, Vader returns to form as the hulking villain from 1977. Is he a conflicted Anakin Skywalker hiding from his feelings in a metal shell? Not so far. If the last three episodes are nothing but Vader trash-talking his staff and Force choking every second neck he meets, I’ll be perfectly happy.
A note of warning if you haven’t watched either series yet — Stranger Things and Kenobi both feature scenes of violence against children. Consider yourself advised.