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  • Margaret A. Robbins, Ph.D

What I Loved About Stranger Things and What You Should Watch and Read Next

Halfway through Stranger Things Season Three, I was afraid it was going to be my least favorite season so far. There was a lot of slime, and a few times, I thought to myself “eewww.” However, by the time I was finished with it, I realized it was my favorite season so far. I hope the Game of Thrones writers were watching because this was a bittersweet ending that worked.

As a Xennial born in the early 1980s, some of the pop culture references of Stranger Things are probably lost on me. Yet I caught on to a handful of the nostalgic references, specifically The Karate Kid, Madonna’s “Material Girl,” the Back to the Future movies, and, most of all, Dustin’s song breakout of “The Neverending Story” with his up-until-that-point mystery girlfriend. I remember loving that movie as a kid and am glad the show paid homage to it. Since I studied comics in graduate school, I loved the references to the Wonder Woman and Green Lantern comics.

But what I loved the most about Stranger Things Season 3 is the relationships. That’s the part of it that stands the test of time and that we can all relate to, regardless of our favorite decade. As a forever late bloomer and a nerd, I could relate to Will feeling abandoned by his friends when he was very into the D & D games and his friends were more engaged with conventional interests. I could relate to Nancy’s frustration at work and wanting to make it as a female writer, in spite of sexist comments and older male colleagues calling her “Nancy Drew” in a mocking way. I related to Nancy and Jonathan learning to communicate with each other and to get past their family background differences.

I felt for Joyce and Hopper as the explored the transition of friends to romantic partners and how even though they had felt jaded by past experiences, they were trying to take the leap to find love once again. And I related to the seemingly complicated friendship between Steve and Robin. I absolutely love the strong and genuine friendship between a straight identifying person and a LGBT identifying person. Having said that, is it just me, or did Robin hesitate a little bit when she told the video store employee that she and Steve were “just friends”? I’m guessing that’s fuel for Season 4, among other things.

I’m very much in love with speculative fiction and horror. So, of course, I have a list of recommendations for shows you can watch, comics you can read, and other media to explore while we all have to wait a very long time for Stranger Things Season 4.

In the meantime, check these out:

1. The Paper Girls comics

I’ve heard this series described as Stranger Things for females and with a feminist bend. While I think the two narratives are really different in some ways, I definitely love the strong female characters and the late 1980's nostalgia. The series follows middle school girls from their 1988 paper routes to time traveling destinations. What if Y2K had actually happened? Will we ever find a cure for cancer? This and other questions are addressed, and there are multiple engaging references to cultural and political history. Matt Wilson’s coloring alone should motivate you to check this series out, along with the witty writing. As a side note, I met Matt Wilson at MomoCon this year. He’s a very nice guy and signed my copy of Volume 1 of The Wicked + The Divine, another intriguing comic.

2. Fringe

I loved this show while it was out and am surprised that it hasn’t gotten more attention. Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, and John Noble star in this story about traveling to a different dimension in which there is a slightly altered version of yourself exists who had slightly different choices and circumstances. It shows that all of our choices matter and yet, also, how fragile the universe is and how one little diversion can change everything. Plus, like Stranger Things, there are a lot of interesting relationship dynamics: Peter Bishop’s estranged relationship with his father, Peter and Olivia’s friendship with sexual tension, Olivia as an empowered female FBI agent.

3. Wayward Pines

This insulated alternative world appears to be perfect, but you can’t ask too many questions, and something is literally lurking not too far away. People often compare this show to Twin Peaks. I think of it as The Good Place meets V: it grapples with questions of utopian/dystopian society and also with what can happen if we push science too far. Plus, the acting is brilliant.

4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel

I’m assuming most middle to older Millennials and young Gen-Xers have seen this show. If you already have, it’s worth a re-watch. If you haven’t, it’s worth watching after seeing Stranger Things. A lot of the same timeless themes show up: first love, first heartbreak, adolescents, friend dynamics, revisiting love during middle age, parent relationships, and evil supernatural figures. Both Buffy and the spin-off series Angel are cult teen show classics that are worth the time. Plus, the late 90's music and pop culture references are amazing.

5. Stranger Things: The Other Side Graphic Novel and Stranger Things: Six

Dark Horse has released comics to read alongside of the TV series, and as a comics fan, I am super excited. I read Stranger Things: The Other Side as individual issues, but it is now available as a graphic novel. As I referenced in a past blog, Stranger Things: The Other Side tells the story of Stranger Things Season 1 from Will’s perspective. I’ve only read the first issue of Stranger Things: Six, thus far, as more are forthcoming, but it’s a prequel that tells the story of another test subject.

6. Riverdale

For those of us who grew up watching Dawson’s Creek, this show is its Generation Z counterpart. I’ve heard it described as “Dawson’s Creek on steroids,” which I think is accurate. The Afterlife of Archie comics by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (the show’s main producer) are worth reading alongside watching this show. It’s a teen realistic fiction show based on the Archie comics with some horror/mystery elements to it. Think Archie meets dark Nancy Drew. There are elements that remind me of Stranger Things: mystery, adolescent love, a focus on gaming (only they call their game "Gargoyles and Griffins"), small town life. There’s some teen angst in it, but something about it works. And it does touch on social issues, as I note in this blog post.

7. The OA

To me, this show is a must watch, and the second season is especially compelling. It reminds me a lot of Fringe because of the alternative dimension attributes. But it also reminds me a lot of Stranger Things because the protagonists span different ages and life spans, yet an important subplot is the evolution of the adolescent characters. So far, it’s the best show I’ve seen this year.

So, it may be a while before we get to experience Season 4 of Stranger Things. But in the meantime, we have books and hopefully, such popular culture conventions as DragonCon in Atlanta, to keep us occupied.

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