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In the picture

Stranger Things returns with another entertaining season; Designated Survivor adopts a more coarse tone as it moves to Netflix.

In the picture

Stranger Things***

*ing: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery, Dacre Montgomery, and Maya Hawke

Created by The Duffer Brothers

Season: 3

Netflix delivers more sci-fi horror along with a barrage of ’80s references in the third season of its megahit series Stranger Things, continuing the story of the psychokinetic Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and her friends battling monsters from the Upside Down.

As the season commences, much of the love-struck cast is busy pairing up. El is perpetually making out with boyfriend Mike (Finn Wolfhard), angering her adoptive father, police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), who himself has feelings for Joyce (Winona Ryder). Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink) are an item, at least when they aren’t broken up. Even Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) has a girlfriend, although no one around him is certain whether she’s real or imaginary. Will (Noah Schnapp), on the other hand, just wants to play Dungeons & Dragons, but his friends are clearly busy elsewhere.

INTHEPIC3Danger soon starts to emerge. It turns out that someone is trying to open the portal that El previously closed, and a monster known as the Mind Flayer is on the loose and busy gobbling up the residents of Hawkins.

The proceedings are pretty exciting, often amusing, and always interesting, but they are also quite absurd. The kids are unbelievably resourceful; the baddies are ridiculously inept. The developments constantly test your suspension of disbelief skills, and there gets a point when you can’t just overlook the preposterousness of the situation.

The ’80s references also misfire a couple of times. From a makeover montage set to ‘Material Girl’ to a discussion about New Coke and even a duet of The Never Ending Story theme song, some of the throwbacks are more groan-inducing than nostalgically pleasing.

Despite all that, the drama is still very riveting. The cast delivers good performances; El is still a fascinating character; and some of the groupings – like Dustin’s friendship with Steve (Joe Keery) who is now slinging ice-cream at the Starcourt Mall (which is the primary setting of much of the action) with the charming Robin (Maya Hawke) – are particularly fun.

These 8 episodes ensure that the show remains compelling, not only because it’s visually well-made but also because it doesn’t fail to deliver an emotional impact. It might not do anything particularly fresh for the series, but the third season of Stranger Things will entertain you, make you smile, break your heart, and leave you looking forward to the next instalment (especially since a post-credit scene at the end of the last episode raises a very significant question).

 

Designated Survivor**1/2

*ing: Kiefer Sutherland, Adan Canto, Italia Ricci, Kal Penn, and Maggie Q

Created by David Guggenheim

Season: 3

INTHEPIC4After being axed by ABC at the end of its second season, political thriller Designated Survivor has found a new home on Netflix where it now continues its journey with a third round of intrigue and drama, only this time it comes with an unexpected onslaught of swearing. The series – which tells the story of Thomas Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland), an idealist politician who suddenly became the head of the state when an explosion killed everyone ahead of him in the presidential line of succession – has revamped its style for its streaming debut, adopting a more mature, explicit tone and espousing an agenda that seems reactionary to the current political climate.

The new 10-episode season finds Kirkman running for president and campaigning to be elected for the post that he had initially ascended, dealing with rival candidates and their underhanded tactics while struggling to stay true to what he believes in. Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci) is still working for the president while coping with her mother’s terminal illness. Seth Wright (Kal Penn) is serving as the administration’s Communications Director and getting acquainted with a daughter he didn’t know he had until now. National Security Adviser Aaron Shore (Adan Canto) is Kirkman’s running mate, and Lorraine Zimmer (Julie White) has been brought on board to serve as the campaign manager.

Meanwhile, FBI Agent turned CIA Case Officer Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) is investigating a possible threat of bioterrorism and trying to thwart a potential attack with the help of biohacker Eli Mays (Chukwudi Iwuji).

The series still feels like two show smushed into one – a drama about a well-meaning but inexperienced president, and a thriller about an agent trying to uncover threats – like it always has, but the language and style is more coarse this time around. The tonal shift is jarring initially, and much of the cursing seems unnecessary, although the strong language does make the characters seem more real. The conflicted Kirkman, too, seems slightly less bland now than he was before. The political stances and diatribes, however, feel like the writers are pushing an agenda, a tactic that doesn’t exactly make for compelling drama, irrespective of which side of the political spectrum you support. Showing real segments of Americans airing their concerns, though an intriguing idea, doesn’t quite pay off either.

INTHEPIC1The Hannah Wells arc, on the other hand, feels like it would have made a more entertaining series on its own, but her promising (albeit often ludicrous) storyline isn’t handled well here; a moment that is meant to elicit shock is delivered so poorly that it simply underwhelms.

On the whole, season three leaves you with the sense that the Netflix revival of Designated Survivor knows that it wants to be sharper but doesn’t really know how to get there, and this set of episodes is ultimately so inessential that it doesn’t explain why the series was revived anyway.

 

Rating system:  *Not on your life  * ½ If you really must waste your time  ** Hardly worth the bother  ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only  *** Good enough for a look see  *** ½ Recommended viewing  **** Don’t miss it  **** ½ Almost perfect  ***** Perfection

Sameen Amer

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