“Stranger Things” has taken the idea of playing the long game to heart a bit too literally, capping its super-sized fourth season with two sprawling episodes that total nearly four hours. Whether that’s a reward to fans or self-indulgence by the producers rests in the eye of the beholder, but after this, it’s hard to imagine many concluding that ending things with season five qualifies as premature.
This season has already turned the Kate Bush song “Running Up That Hill” into a chart-topping hit 37 years later, but the way the episodes unfold “running” isn’t quite the word for it; rather, it’s more like brisk walk with detours along the way.
In hindsight, the main innovation might have to do with scheduling, with this Volume 1 and 2 approach (timed first to Memorial Day, and now the Fourth of July) spreading the wealth for Netflix, which really should consider dropping episodes weekly for the finishing run to milk the media attention that much longer.
With their story unfolding in multiple locales, series creators the Duffer brothers have broken open the special-effects piggy bank, while giving their characters room to breathe — exploring more grown-up teenage problems through the prism of small-town Indiana in the mid-1980s.
Still, the show never ventures too far from its deep pop-culture roots and knowing homages, whether that’s a nod to “Halloween” or having someone say “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” to beguile the “Star Wars” faithful.