There are 17 specific things Netflix won’t allow me to mention about the third season of “Stranger Things,” which lands on the streaming service July 4th.
But I can tell you this: the third season is sweet and sad, it’s funny and thrilling, and the last 14 minutes of Episode 5 is “Halloween”-esque straight-up horror.
It’s my favorite season of the series so far.
“Stranger Things” is created and written by twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, who were born and raised in Durham. (They’re known in the industry as The Duffer Brothers). The series follows a group of nerdy pre-teens (entering teenage years in Season 3) who must battle supernatural forces after their friend disappears into “The Upside Down.”
And while Duffers’ Emmy-winning show is set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, and it’s filmed in Georgia, they haven’t forgotten their roots. The duo is known to sprinkle Durham (and greater Triangle) references throughout the show.
In an interview with The News & Observer, Matt Duffer noted that even some of the people names in Season 2 (like Mr. McCorkle) are borrowed from neighbors they knew growing up. They also said in a “Fresh Air” interview on NPR last year that they made short films around home, including one recreating the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan” at Jordan Lake.
The brothers’ hometown has returned the love, with the Durham Bulls hosting a “Stranger Things” Night at the ballpark last July, where attendees set a Guinness World Record for the most people wearing sweatbands in one gathering.
The Bulls will host another “Stranger Things” night at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park next week, on July 11. The Triple-A team will wear specially designed uniforms that are a tribute to the character Eleven (or El), who likes to wear flannel shirts and eat waffles (the Big C Waffles food truck will be on site).
Fans are encouraged to wear ‘80s clothing and bid on the team uniforms after the game, with proceeds benefiting Children’s Flight of Hope.
Do the Duffers mention Durham in Season 3?
Season 3 mentions some of the same North Carolina place names we’ve seen before, such as when Nancy and Jonathan, both now working at the Hawkins Post newspaper, interview a woman living at 4819 Cornwallis Road in Episode 2.
In Episode 4, Hopper and Joyce study a map and point out important locations close to Jordan Lake. One of the spots Joyce mentions is “Bullocks,” but she doesn’t say if that’s a road or farm or business or a person’s property. But anyone the least bit familiar with Durham will think of the famous barbecue spot on Hillsborough Road as soon as they hear that name.
I Googled nearly every proper name mentioned or shown on the screen while watching all eight episodes of Season 3 last week, and those are the only references I caught. But I’m sure I missed something, and I’m sure readers (and Twitter) will let me know.
Embrace the ‘80s nostalgia
The Duffer Brothers have said in many interviews that “Stranger Things” was inspired by ‘80s movies and books they admired while growing up. The series has a definite “Goonies” meets “Stand By Me” vibe.
Season 3 is set in July 1985 and the episodes are awash in ‘80s nostalgia. That includes throwback logos galore, thanks to the time spent in the town’s new Starcourt Mall: Gap, JC Penney, Orange Julius, Taco Bell — those logos are imprinted on the brains of those who grew up in the ‘80s, and it’s a sweet little blast from the past.
There has been some criticism that the product placement is too heavy in Season 3. We all know that New Coke has been revived just for the show, and there is an extended (but funny) scene about that. And we know Burger King released an Upside Down Whopper in some markets (not here), and yes, there’s a scene where some characters eat Whoppers.
But what were the ‘80s even about if not crass commercialism? It seems fitting. And a good part of the story takes place at a mall, so what are you going to do — not show stores? Make up fake stores? Why?
To those critics I say: take a chill pill and wash it down with a cherry Slurpee from the nearest 7-Eleven (strawberry is OK in a pinch).