Nine months after the events of Season 2, the kids are enjoying their summer break. But as Fourth Of July approaches, all is still not right in the town of Hawkins, and the denizens of the Upside Down aren’t done with our teen heroes just yet.

Summer has come to Stranger Things. After two seasons of dark nights, gloomy forests and a subdued palette, Season 3 is all bright sun, swimming pools and hanging out at the new Starcourt Mall. New influences are added into its cocktail of ’80s nostalgia, retaining its love for Steven Spielberg and Stephen King while adding a dose of John Hughes-inspired frivolity.

The kids are growing up and starting to drift away from those basement D&D sessions in favour of more traditional teen pastimes. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) — now an item — make out at every available opportunity, while Max (Sadie Sink) is dating Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) has found his own (possibly fictional) girlfriend while away at camp. It’s an important shift in the character dynamics, fracturing the core group while offering a rich seam of humour as they fumble ineptly through budding love lives.

Stranger Things 3

All of the leads feel more comfortable this time around, helped by a larger core group of characters, splintering off into factions who explore storylines that eventually converge. Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce (Winona Ryder) take their sexual tension on the road, rooting out some nefarious goings on at City Hall, meanwhile Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) sniff out their own mystery while interning at The Hawkins Post. Steve ‘The Hair’ Harrington (Charlie Heaton) continues his journey from Season 1’s jock douchebag to the show’s most affably enjoyable character, working alongside Dustin and Scoops Ahoy co-worker Robin (Maya Hawke) to decode a suspicious Russian radio transmission.

It’s the emerging friendship between Max and Eleven that proves the most welcome, however, blossoming as a response to the boys’ rampant idiocy, and typified by a shopping trip that tears through every fashion atrocity the era has to offer. While always shot through with humour, the third season leans heavily on the comedy, pulling off laugh-out loud, slapstick moments amid a story that embraces its stupidity.

Proceedings are more charming and plain enjoyable as a result, but such levity comes at a price and the horror aspects have moved from genuine chills to gonzo schlock, such as this season’s tentacled meat monster which, while overwhelmingly ’80s, never raises the hackles.

After a disappointing second season that felt like a tepid re-run of the first, year three is a refreshing return to form for Stranger Things. The John Carpenter-inspired body horror combined with a Body Snatchers subplot succeeds in changing things up and the characters benefit enormously from the season’s more mischievous tone. It doesn’t recapture the original run’s trick of feeling both strikingly original and comfortingly familiar, but the end, when it comes, is sufficiently bold and brash to make this a summer to remember.

A marked improvement on Season 2, this may not be big on scares but for sheer fun, Stranger Things 3 turns it up to Eleven.

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