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Hein’s TV Picks: Strap In For a New Season of Stranger Things

Like a great rollercoaster, Season 4 promises to be one wild ride.
  • Millie Bobby Brown in Stranger Things 4. (Photo  Netflix)
    Millie Bobby Brown in Stranger Things 4. (Photo Netflix)

    Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.

    Stranger Things returns for its fourth season on Netflix this Friday. The Emmy-winning 80's pop-culture filled series is one of my favorite rollercoasters to ride.

    I love coasters. Always have. Hitting the Thunderbolt, Jack Rabbit and all the others at Kennywood growing up in Pittsburgh. Graduating to The Cyclone after I moved to New York. Taking my family to Hershey every summer to tackle the Comet, Lightning Racer, Sooper Dooper Looper, and every exciting new ride that got built. If there's a rollercoaster, you'll find me strapped in.

    Once you’re looking for them, parallels between Stranger Things and rollercoasters smack you in the face. You can't wait to experience both, and each has its ups and downs. If it's a good ride, you exit anxious to do it all over again. But sometimes you walk away feeling sick to your stomach.

    I'm rolling with this metaphor, so let's break it down:

    Anticipation - Whether you're a child or all grown up, as you head to the amusement park you're thinking about the rides. The more thrilling, the higher the anticipation. You just can't wait to get there. That feeling has persisted since the first Stranger Things episode The Duffer Brothers offered up in 2016. You're immediately sucked in from the opening Stephen King font-ed credits. There's horror, laughter, romance, government conspiracy, other worlds, nostalgia, and a little bit of Dungeons & Dragons. But every season, and every ride, leaves you wanting more.

    The Initial Thrill - It's hard to describe the first time you ride a great coaster. The chain clicking as you slowly make your way up the first hill, the big drop, the turns, the speed and the abrupt braking at the end. The first season of Stranger Things had that feeling as it captured the world's attention. There wasn't anything else like it on TV. The kids and their hometown of Hawkins, Indiana were innocent and perfect. Millie Bobby Brown came from another world and was known as a number. Winona Ryder was back playing a worried mom. David Harbour fit right in as the bearded lawman who went by his last name. Matthew Modine was the requisite bad guy. Oh, and the Upside Down didn't hurt either. Throwback childhood innocence with plenty of 80's nostalgia mixed in and a battle of good versus evil. Couldn't get enough.

    The Second Time Around - Sade once sang it's never as good as the first time, but I don't think she was referring to roller coasters. After you've been on once, you know what to expect. Sure, you enjoy the ride, but you know what's coming. That's the problem with expectations - they're difficult to meet when you set the bar so high. The second season of Stranger Things felt like another roller coaster ride. You knew what was coming. The kids were maturing and kept apart for most of the series to flesh out the characters. Mistake. Millie Bobby Brown was unleashed at the end, but there were others out there numerically just like her. You could see the jokes coming and the battle that would ensue. Steve and Dustin shined, but that innocence from the first season was lost.

    Three Is A Magic Number - An initial thrill ride keeps you coming back for more, and gradually you appreciate the twists and turns in spite of their predictability. Renovations have been done and enhancements have been made. Roller coasters have peaks and valleys, but the best ones surprise you right when you feel like things have slowed down. The thrill is still there. Season three got back to what made the first season work. The kids were back together. The mystery was back. Good was going to battle evil in a mall filled with plenty of inside references. The Russians got involved. It was a fun ride with a ridiculous ending. But it was satisfying.

    Three years and one pandemic later, we’ve arrived at season four. Everyone’s hit puberty and left Indiana. Eleven has no powers. Hopper is a Russian prisoner who somehow survived a fire that would devastate a city. We know what's coming… a new monster will enter that portal in Hawkins, and our heroes will return to fight another day in the 80's.

    Can't wait to strap in.

    Here's what else is worth watching this week…

    SEASON PREMIERES

    That Damn Michael Che (HBO Max)
    Thursday, May 26th

    Friends tell me Weekend Update is must-see TV. I don't always agree with my friends. But the second season of Colin Jost's co-anchor's show continues to hit the mark. The first season was filled of stories and biting satire that should be on SNL. Thankfully, HBO Max provides a different outlet for Che to express himself and make us laugh. Watch trailer.

    Obi-Wan Kenobi (Disney+)
    Friday, May 27th

    "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope." Those words from Carrie Fisher in 1977 live on with a Jedi great getting his own Disney+ series. Ewan McGregor returns from those horrible sequels to play not so Old Ben Kenobi and picks up after Luke's dad betrayed him to go to the dark side. Hayden Christensen also returns to emote as a young Darth Vader.

    The Mandalorian proved that stories about The Force can thrive. Boba Fett got interesting when the Mandalorian (and Grogu) showed up. Obi-Wan has a lot more history to work with. Jedis are being hunted down, and this has the potential to be something special. We know Ben ends up in a cave watching over Luke… now we'll find out why. Watch trailer.

    FOREIGN AFFAIRS

    Prehistoric Planet (Apple TV+) – Richard Attenborough's brother David covers the wildlife when dinosaurs ruled the planet. Monday.

    THIS WEEK’S STIHTGT!
    (Shows That I Hope To Get To!)

    Keeper of the Ashes: The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders (Hulu) – Oklahoma Girl Scout Kristin Chenoweth narrates the true story of three scouts who were murdered at camp. Tuesday.

    Ricky Gervais: Supernature (Netflix) – Stand-up special from a comedian who truly doesn't care who he pisses off. Tuesday.

    Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix) – The creator of Everybody Loves Raymond continues his worldwide quest in search of something to eat. Wednesday.

    GREATEST HITS
    (Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)

    This Week's Pick: The Great (Hulu) – A smart comedy about Catherine the Great and her ascent in Russia aristocracy. The jokes are dark, there's plenty of innuendo, and the ensemble acting is as wonderful as the writing. Elle Fanning is perfectly cast as Catherine, but Nicholas Hoult playing her husband Peter steals the show as the obnoxious young Emperor. Huzzah!

    Previous Picks:
    Atypical (Netflix)
    Sherlock (PBS)
    Magic City (Peacock)
    Imposters (Netflix)
    Episodes (Showtime/Hulu)
    For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
    Abbott Elementary (ABC)
    Damages (Hulu)
    Luther (HBO Max)
    Downton Abbey (Netflix)
    Justified (Hulu)
    The Good Wife (Paramount+)
    Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
    Patriot (Amazon Prime Video)
    Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
    The Split (Amazon Prime Video)
    Bordertown (Netflix)
    Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)

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    If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.

    Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Stay healthy and safe!

    Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.

    TOPICS: Stranger Things, Netflix, Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi