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Never Seen 'Stranger Things'? Here's What You Need To Know Before The New Season Drops


Some people will be outside all day on the Fourth of July, grilling out, watching fireworks. Others will be locked in a dark room all day in front of the TV, injecting Season 3 of "Stranger Things" straight into their veins. The whole season drops tomorrow on Netflix. And that means you're going to be hearing a lot about it in the ensuing days. The next segment is for those who want to fake their way through those conversations. We have a TV cheat sheet with Hillary Kelly. She writes about books and TV for Vulture. Welcome to the program.

HILLARY KELLY: Thanks for having me, Audie.

CORNISH: So, first of all, this conversation is by definition going to have some spoilers (laughter).

KELLY: Spoiler alert.

CORNISH: So people should know that. You can turn down your radio for the next four minutes. Ready? OK. So if someone hasn't heard anything about "Stranger Things," give me the kind of, you know, previously on. Basically, what's the show about?

KELLY: So if you haven't heard of "Stranger Things," I'm really wondering what you've been doing for the past two years. But it is basically a show set in the early '80s in a small town called Hawkins, Ind. And it follows a group of four young boys in a sort of "Stand By Me"-type adventure as they discover that their perfectly boring small town actually harbors a lot of really dark secrets. There's a lab on the edge of town called Hawkins Lab. And it turns out that the man running that lab has been trying to turn some children into secret weapons for the U.S. government. We meet one of those kids. Her name is Eleven. She becomes sort of our superpower favorite character. And the boys and their family members embark on an adventure when they discover that there is a portal to another world called the Upside Down.

CORNISH: Very nice. I feel like someone should pay you for this. This is really good. Yeah. And it's a little bit like "E.T." but with a little girl instead of an alien.

KELLY: Right. If you've seen "E.T." - any Spielberg film, really...

CORNISH: Or film from the '80s.

KELLY: "Super 8."


KELLY: It has, like, a lot of "Super 8" vibe to it - kids out on an adventure with adults who sort of don't believe them and then are sucked into this crazy alternate world.

CORNISH: All right. So I'm standing at a party. Someone starts talking to me about "Stranger Things." If I haven't seen the show, how can I cheat my way through that conversation?

KELLY: Probably by referencing all of the great memes that have come out of this show. One of them is Eleven has this fondness for eating frozen Eggo waffles. So you could just throw out a, like, oh, I hope we see a lot more Eggo waffles this year. Another one is there were these infamous Christmas lights in the first season that Winona Ryder's character, Joyce, was using to communicate with her son in the Upside Down. And so, you know, throwing out any reference to flashing Christmas lights would probably get you there.

CORNISH: And probably Winona Ryder.

KELLY: Right. Yeah.

CORNISH: (Laughter) It's always good to say, isn't it great to see Winona Ryder.

KELLY: Right. And if you need a good sort of topic to set everybody off, just say that you do or don't think that Joyce and Hopper, who's the town police chief, are going to get together. We know that they had a little romance in high school and that they've grown apart since then. But it's one of the big topics that a lot of people are asking.

CORNISH: You alluded to the nostalgia of the show, which is in part what made it such a phenomenon, right? Everyone got to relive all of those great Spielberg-type films from the early '80s and starring young people. But it also means there's an insane amount of cross-promotion, right? I mean, is it in my head, or is there just, like, a lot of "Stranger Things" pseudo merch?

KELLY: Right. I mean, it doesn't help, I would say, that "Stranger Things" takes from so many other categories that you...

CORNISH: Yeah. The snake is eating its pop culture tail kind of, right (laughter)?

KELLY: Right, exactly. That you can see - it's not just that you're seeing references to "Stranger Things" everywhere. It's that you're noticing that "Stranger Things" was referencing everything else all along. I mean, even their posters...

CORNISH: Yeah, but Burger King has an Upside Down Whopper alluding to the show. I mean, they're literally flipping over a sandwich and telling you it's a thing. I just find it to be very strange.

KELLY: Which you could just do...

CORNISH: You could do.

KELLY: ...On your own...


KELLY: ...If you wanted to.

CORNISH: Yeah. If you drop it your car like me. So tomorrow is the big drop. Are you going to binge? Are you going to ration it out in old-style TV watching fashion?

KELLY: So I'm a binger 100% mostly because a lot of the fun...

CORNISH: It's July Fourth, Hillary.

KELLY: It's July Fourth. I know. It's going to be...

CORNISH: (Laughter) Do you hate America or do you like America?

KELLY: I adore America. But it's going to be hot, so I'm going to be bingeing 100%. Secret - I'm a critic, so I actually have seen some of it.


KELLY: But...

CORNISH: Are we in for something good or not?

KELLY: I think we are, I mean, especially if you want to watch these characters grow up, you know, in the "Harry Potter" sense where it got more and more fun to watch who these young people were turning into. They're going to be teenagers this season. And so all of the accompanying fun of a teenage show is now kicking in.

CORNISH: All right. That's Hilary Kelly. She writes for Vulture. Thanks so much.

KELLY: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.