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SMEDLEY: How my experience with Netflix's Stranger Things has evolved over time

From left, Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair, Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson and Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield in Season 4 of "Stranger Things." (Netflix/TNS)
From left, Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair, Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson and Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield in Season 4 of "Stranger Things." (Netflix/TNS)

Kyle Smedley is a journalism and telecommunications major and writes for The Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.

I recently wrote a column about my hometown, Muncie, Indiana, and how much it means to me through the 19 years I’ve spent on Earth and I’ve found through writing columns, many readers connect with my experiences with certain things. Whether that be a special connection with their hometown, a similar opinion to mine on an Indiana Pacers NBA Draft selection, or anything in between, although not everyone agrees or connects with my opinions, many do. 

Earlier this summer I wrote a column about Kendrick Lamar’s newest album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, in my first attempt at “reviewing” and talking through a piece of entertainment that connected with me. Now, it’s time for television. 

The overwhelmingly popular Netflix original series Stranger Things has once again taken the world by storm following the release of Season 4 Volume 1 and 2 May 27 and July 1, 2022,  respectively. Six years after the release of Season 1, this quirky, nostalgic, comedic, horrific and touching series is as popular as ever. 

When Stranger Things first debuted, I wasn’t buying into the hype. For some reason, when something new comes out and catches fire to become wildly popular, I'm usually tentative to see it for myself. 

Oftentimes, I feel like people may either get too caught up in recency bias or like things just because they’re popular. With Stranger Things, I finally jumped on board when Season 2 came out in 2017. 

Like so many others, I immediately fell in love with the Netflix original and the cast of characters it showcases. The series was certainly the first I ever “binged”, as my mom and I couldn’t wait until the next day to watch the next episode. 

We flew through Seasons 1 and 2 before having to wait two years for Season 3. When Season 3 finally released, we wasted little time, watching all eight episodes in one day on July 5, 2019, the day after the initial release date. 

After that, I was a full-fledged fan of Stranger Things. I got a handful of Funko POP! figures and was always game to discuss the series, however, over the three-year gap between Seasons 3 and 4, I forgot how much I loved the series. 

When Season 4 released May 27, 2022, I didn’t watch all seven episodes the day after release, instead taking my time and watching the show whenever I had time to. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the show, but I didn’t love it like I used to. 

That all changed after I watched the first seven episodes of Season 4, as the new twist on the series breathed new life into my Stranger Things fandom. After I watched the first seven episodes, I fell back in love with the amazing cast of characters and the show itself. 

I knew I had almost a month before the final two episodes of Season 4 were released, so I decided to re-watch Seasons 1-3 in preparation for the expectedly epic Season finale. Going back through Seasons 1-3 directly after watching Volume 1 of Season 4 is what helped shape my current opinion of Stranger Things

Then, the final two episodes of Season 4 were released July 1, 2022, and as I sat in the backseat of an SUV on the way to Tennessee from North Carolina July 2 and watched these episodes unfold, my current opinion of the series took full form. 

Stranger Things is my favorite television series I’ve ever watched. 

Granted, TV shows have always been difficult for me to get into, for whatever reason, but this Netflix original does everything right for me. It has such a broad mix of genres between sci-fi, comedy, horror and drama, along with the 1980s feel and soundtrack that gives the storyline a perfect setting. 

Of course, the cherry on top is the cast. Yes, David Harbour and Winona Ryder as the two main adult actors in Jim Hopper and Joyce Byers are great, however, the core six children at the center of the show connect with me on a level that is unparalleled in entertainment.

The pre-existing friendship between Mike Wheeler, Lucas Sinclair, Dustin Henderson and Will Byers has evolved from middle school children playing Dungeons and Dragons to high schoolers who live across the country from one another, creating a complex and interesting dynamic. Add in Eleven and Max Mayfield, who are two of the best female or male characters in a television show I’ve ever seen and the core six is made. 

Over the course of the series, I haven’t gotten bored with any of these characters, nor have I with the stellar side characters like Steve Harrington or Murray Bauman. Instead, I feel myself relating more and more with them and enjoying their character arcs as they mature. 

Since the beginning, Dustin Henderson and Lucas Sinclair have been my two favorite male child characters, and they remain the same after Season 4, with Caleb McLaughlin putting in easily his best performance as Lucas in the most recent season. Millie Bobby Brown has continued to improve as Eleven, as her character evolved from a quiet and mysterious girl with superpowers to an independent yet young woman with those same powers, though not without trial and error. 

However, my favorite character of the entire show is the aforementioned Max Mayfield. Since her arrival in Season 2, Sadie Sink has done such a great job portraying her character’s complex storyline that she continued to rise up my rankings of characters in the show and her performance in Season 4 gave her my top spot, as she is involved in all of my favorite scenes, storylines and she gives the most believable and emotional performance of anyone throughout the season, and perhaps the entire series.

I love the characters of Stranger Things most of all because I, along with so many other people my age, have grown up with them. Each of the main six children is anywhere from 17-20 in real life, meaning they have grown up just like I have.

When Season 4 first came out May 27, I didn't expect to be writing a column expressing my adoration for the pop culture phenomenon that is Stranger Things, however, at that point I hadn't really given the series a whole lot of thought. Now, I get to enjoy watching and talking about it with friends and family, increasing my appreciation for the Netflix original even more.

As great as the conversation with others about entertainment is and no matter how popular or cool a TV series is, the connection to characters is what makes entertainment great and easy to connect with. That's why the machine keeps rolling, and that's what makes entertainment, and Stranger Things, great.

This is just my love letter to my favorite series, however, I'm confident many readers feel the same way about not only this show but their personal favorite series as well.

Contact Kyle Smedley with comments via email at kyle.smedley@bsu.edu or on Twitter @smedley1932.

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