Stranger Things season 3: Rad '80s details you might have missed

To the max!

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.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
5 min read

Karen Wheeler, Mike's mom (actress Cara Buono), forgets that when you spy on someone via phone extension you need to stay quiet.


Stranger Things season 3 is alive! You can watch it on Netflix right now and, great news, this season is actually extremely good.  

But this season leans into its 1980s time period hard.

As a nostalgia nerd who's co-written books all about the lost pop culture of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, as well as a proud graduate of the class of 1985, this makes me extremely happy. 

I watched the whole season with an eye on the 1980s goodness and good lord there is a lot of stuff.

Personally, I disagree with the critics who claim the 1980s accents in the show are overdone. OK, maybe the scene where Joyce wistfully recalls how she and Demodog-victim Bob would cuddle while watching Sam and Diane's romance on Cheers -- that felt like a reach. But I'd actually have crammed a few more 1980s references in there. Starcourt Mall needed a Benetton, for one thing. 

Here are my favorite 1980s throwbacks from Stranger Things' third season.

Warning: Minor Stranger Things season 3 spoilers ahead.

Sharp QT-50 pastel boombox

Not all boomboxes were the big honking ones derogatorily nicknamed "ghetto blasters." There was also a wonderfully pastel-colored line of Sharp QT-50 round-edged mini boomboxes issued in pastel tones that looked like nothing more than bowls of delicious sorbet. They played both cassette tapes and AM/FM radio -- what more could you want? I never was lucky enough to have one, but I recognized them instantly when I saw one pumping out Corey Hart's Never Surrender in Eleven's bedroom. Watch the whole season carefully, the pastel boombox shows up multiple times. (And admire this Etsy version in pin form.)

Farrah Fawcett hairspray

Stranger Things viewers have seen Farrah Fawcett hairspray before -- it played a vital role in season 2, when Steve coached Dustin on haircare. (He recommended Fabergé Organics shampoo and conditioner -- yes, of "and they told two friends" fame -- followed by four puffs of the Farrah Fawcett spray.) Dustin is obviously listening to Steve HAIR-rington still, because it's a can of Farrah Fawcett spray he selects as a weapon when his robot toys, including R2-D2, mysteriously come to life. But his friends choose that moment to surprise him, and, well... sorry about your eyes, Lucas. Sadly, no ads for Farrah Fawcett hairspray seem to be around, but the above YouTube video shows a bunch of her commercials, including her own shampoo.

Hopper smoking in a restaurant

We're more educated about the health issues caused by smoking today, but back when I was in high school in 1985, there was actually a smoking room (seniors only) in our student cafeteria. So Police Chief Jim Hopper's constant smoking in season 3 feels realistic. But kids born since the big US tobacco backlash might get fired up by the scene where he's stuck waiting for Joyce in a crowded restaurant, and just lights right up in the middle of a room full of diners. How's about some nicotine with your salade niçoise, '80s ladies?

Telephone extension tag

In one scene, Mike Wheeler's mom, Karen, answers a phone call in the kitchen, then yells that it's for him. Mike picks up on another phone extension -- yes, we were able to do that then -- and Karen, in true Spy Mom fashion, doesn't hang up. That means she can listen to his entire phone call, and if she doesn't cough or sneeze, he'll never know. We '80s kids were pros at the silent hang-up after listening to whatever vital gossip we needed. Karen obviously isn't practiced at this feat, as she gives herself away almost instantly. (But once you hear what Mike's lying about, can you blame her?)

Orange Julius rules the mall

No self-respecting US shopping mall in the 1980s would be caught without an Orange Julius location, and the Hawkins, Indiana, Starcourt Mall is no exception. (You raised-on-Jamba kids today wouldn't understand, but when the Strawberry Julius flavor came out, it was as big a deal as the moon landing. Those things are crazy-good.) In the second episode of season 3, which is maybe the most 1980s-reference-packed of the whole season, Eleven and Max get some sweet revenge on some stuck-up mall rats using an Orange Julius and El's telekinetic powers. Man, would that have been a useful talent back in the my own mall days.

Glamour Shots

The show doesn't call it Glamour Shots, but we all know better. In a second-episode scene, Eleven and Max head to a mall photo studio in their new rainbow-toned outfits to pose for high-stylin' photos like true 20th century foxes. I remember Glamour Shots-style pics as more an iconic trend of the 1990s than the 1980s, but it's so much fun to see El and Max giggling and showing off their new styles that it doesn't even matter. As of May 2019, there are five Glamour Shots locations left, The New York Times reports, in case you're eager to put on a top hat, feather boa and some sequins and go to town.

Pool-mom fashion

A trailer released back in May delivers a tasty slice of 1980s fashion trends, courtesy of the Hawkins moms who are lusting after Billy as he lifeguards at the local pool. And every second of it is jammed with retro goodness, from the Stray Cats' Rock This Town playing in the background to the New Coke that Karen Wheeler is sipping (carefully, with a straw, to avoid smearing her lipstick). Karen's also wearing that thick layered eyeshadow we all loved (I was a pro at the pink-purple-edged-with-blue look) and the chunky bright beads and earrings that were as popular as Madonna. Watch carefully when the camera pans down Mom Row -- each of the ladies has similar jewelry. Billy even compliments Karen's two-tone, split-down-the-middle swimsuit, and honestly, I'd wear that today.

Riding in the station wagon 'way back'

In the early-to-mid 1980s, minivans still trailed ye olde-fashioned station wagon in the competition for family car of choice. And naturally, the station wagon revs up our retro memories in Stranger Things. Sure, Joyce drives a much-maligned, avocado-green Ford Pinto, and bad boy Billy blasts tunes in his blue Camaro, but there are at least two notable scenes in season 3 where the kids all pile into a station wagon. No, the huge, heavy seat belts don't have shoulder belts, and yes, in one pivotal scene, two major characters have to jump into what we called the "way back," the wagon's cargo area. It's only missing the weird dual-side facing seats of my most cherished memories. Drive on, eighties child.

Stranger Things season 3 is available on Netflix now.

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Originally published July 4.