'Stranger Things 4' Is Here, Finally: Everything You Should Know
Eleven, Hopper, Joyce and the crew are back on Netflix, and critics are raving.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Warning: Spoilers for previous seasons of Stranger Things ahead.
The fourth season of Stranger Things is finally here -- mostly -- and fans have literally waited years to see what happens to Eleven, Hopper, Joyce and the rest. Season 3 ended in 2019, in those pre-pandemic days that now seem hard to recall. Before the pandemic hit, Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer signed a multiyear film and series deal with Netflix, and have promised two more seasons of the show. (If you just can't wait, our spoiler-free review of season 4 is here.)
There are still two more episodes coming, on July 1. And the Duffers have revealed that the season finale is more than two hours long, so prep for it like you would a feature film. And there's one more season coming, though no one knows how long we'll have to wait for that satisfying and sad moment of farewell.
Stranger Things captivated the streaming world when it debuted in 2016. Set in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, in the 1980s, the show begins with the disappearance of a kid named Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). Researchers at Hawkins National Laboratory have opened a gate to the creepy alternate dimension known as the Upside Down and are experimenting on a group of special children, one of whom, known as Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), escapes and befriends Will's group. Part of the show's charm is its varied young cast, who feel like real friends, and its nostalgic setting.
Where we left off
At the end of the third season, Eleven and the Byers family left Indiana for California. So the new season will have to show the two groups of friends living far apart, and how they stay in touch. Remember, the 1980s were pre-cell-phone and internet days. And a spooky trailer released in April shows life in California isn't all sunshine and lollipops.
Police Chief Hopper (David Harbour) appeared to be dead at the end of the third season, but video clips showed him being held at a creepy labor camp in Russia that's not against feeding prisoners to the monsters from the Upside Down.
Early reviews are in
Breathe a sigh of relief, Stranger Things fans. Season 4 is earning raves.
Best season yet
In my CNET review, I call season 4 the best one yet, and praise the creators, the Duffer brothers, for managing to balance all the various settings, develop the spooky plot, and keep the characters as lively and likable as they've always been.
"Though the show ping-pongs between California, Hawkins, Russia and Eleven's laboratory days, not one of those settings drags," the review says. "You'll have to hit the pause button for any needed bathroom or snack breaks, because once this season starts rolling, it doesn't let up."
Jolt of joyful energy
Entertainment Weekly's review echoes ours. "Fresh locales, appealing new characters and a rewarding expansion of the mythology give the new season of Stranger Things a jolt of joyful energy, just when the series needed it most," writes critic Kristen Baldwin.
The first seven episodes of Stranger Things' fourth season were released on Netflix on Friday, May 27. Two additional episodes will arrive on Netflix on July 1, giving fans a few weeks to mull over the first-half events. That season 4 finale is over two hours long.
Yes, we're still in the 1980s, as season 4 appears to take place in the spring of 1986, over spring break, in part. And there are plenty of 1980s icons present, from Family Video, where Steve and Robin work, to the satanic panic that rolls over Hawkins when parents think Dungeons & Dragons is turning their kids into devil-worshipping murderers. I dive deeper into some of the 1980s moments in this story.
How to watch
Get yourself a Netflix subscription to ensure you get all the new episodes plus access to the first three seasons.
The service offers a free one-month trial, so if you wait to sign up until after the entire fourth season is uploaded on July 1, you can soak it up with previous years' seasons, then cancel your membership without cost. But then you're going to have to get a kind friend with Netflix to let you watch the fifth season, whenever that comes around.
Cast: Who's who?
The biggest casting question was answered early: A scene in the third-season finale mentioning an imprisoned American all but gave away the fact that Hopper survived the bleak events of that episode.