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‘Stranger Things 4’ Is A Masterpiece

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 26: <> at 230 5th Ave on May 26, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images) (NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 26: <> at 230 5th Ave on May 26, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by B
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about breakup timing, the Jersey Shore, Big Laundry, and more.

Your letters:

Dan:

My wife and I started watching the new season of Stranger Things over the weekend. While the characters are great and fun to watch, there’s always one point where wild shit is going down and a character notices. The character brings it to the attention of another character, and then is quickly shot down or questioned. How many monsters does one have to kill before people start to realize, “Yeah, maybe that weird thing you’re talking about really IS happening”? 

Actually I thought they handled that really well, especially when one kid witnesses a supernatural murder firsthand, and STILL doesn’t believe what’s actually happening and decides it’s the work of Satan instead. That’s perfectly in line with the ’80s I grew up in, right there. Not only that, it aligns perfectly with the style of ’80s movies and TV, where a character is desperate to be believed only to have every last authority figure ignore them.

I know I’ve been chipping away at Hollywood lately, especially as it pertains to visual effects. I’m nowhere near done looking into that story, but I’d just like to pause for a moment to say that Stranger Things 4, or at least what we’ve seen of it so far (the final two episodes of the season will be released in July), is a masterpiece. I expected it to cover the usual bases and keep me entertained throughout its run, the way Stranger Things always does. But I got WAY more than that for season four. The characters are all well-drawn. The kids remain likable despite the fact that they’re not kids anymore. The storyline is believable even though it has no right to be. The acting and writing are all on point. And there’s clear, professional direction in every episode. So much TV (and film!) now lacks an authoritative directorial vision. It’s the complete opposite here. No other show looks like this one does.

You can tell that the people in charge of Stranger Things used the pandemic hiatus to nail down not only every aspect of the story, but how those elements weave together. Hence, every transition from scene to scene includes a cliffhanger that would be good enough to end entire episodes of other shows. Entire seasons, even. Every choice they made down the line for ST4 was the right one, and that NEVER happens. The effects are shabby in spots, but I was actually grateful for that because I’m not that eager to see actual bones snapping, know what I mean? This season dropped right after the Uvalde massacre and is itself centered around a mass slaughter of children (they had to throw a disclaimer onto the first episode), so here was one instance where bad effects were more a relief than an eyesore.

I’m not gonna go the full fanboy and go OH THANK YOU SO MUCH DUFFER BROTHERS PLEASE TAKE MY KIDNEY. I’m just gonna say that I was very, very impressed. Alongside the season finale of Succession last year, you have now seen the standard. This shit isn’t easy to pull off.

Dan:

Baseball cards today should include the number of vaccinations a player has had. I do not have a question.

I can’t ride with that. I’m all out of antivaxxer shaming. Their shittiness is a given, as is their intractability. Every story I’ve read about an antivaxxer seeing the light has been reported from their deathbed. Throwing them into the online stocks is an easily ignorable rebuke by comparison. Also, I assume pretty much every white MLB player is antivax anyway. Come this fall, the NFL will resume games without any COVID protocol in place at all, and then when a player misses a game because he got sick (half my team), I’ll just snort out “dumbass” and then go on with my affairs. Noting antivaxxers in the record book or on baseball cards would make me feel better about myself and accomplish precisely nothing else.

Aaron:

Can a Christmas tree be a Christmas present?

No, that would be insanity.

Jack:

When I was in high school I actually joined the cross country team for a total of three days simply because two of my best friends were on the team. But after those three days, I realized there was NOTHING fun about cross country, and I quit. Am I wrong about endurance sports being not fun?

You are. It’s not as “fun” to run across a suburban forest as it is to play kickball with your friends, but it is deeply rewarding. I know because I ran five miles a day, every day, for over a decade. My workout was always powered by extensive listening sessions of old Metallica and Husker Du, and of proprietary mixtapes that no sane man would ever gift to a woman. I loved running. I miss running. I got to think while running. I got to bust into the occasional sprint. I got to picture myself running across the entire continent. I got even the mythical runner’s high on occasion.

There’s an existential reward to endurance sports that only grows once you’re done for the day. You feel like you accomplished something vital for your body and for your psyche. Every run feels like a victory, and winning is fun. I bet cross country kids love the sport even more than I did, because they got to run together, and because they all probably hooked up with one another. That’s a good time. That counts as fun. Not in the way a round of golf is fun, but who says fun only has to come in one form?

Adam:

What is the worst common kitchen utensil to clean by hand? I spent what felt like a whole quarter of MNF washing two whisks once, so they’re my vote. 

You have to rinse off a whisk quickly after using it, otherwise you’ll end up with dried pancake batter encrusted on every loop. Horrible. My vote goes to any utensil that has very small holes: like a mesh strainer. Every time I try to clean a mesh strainer by hand, it keeps on doing its job and keeps all of the dirt trapped inside each tiny opening. It’s brutal. We also owned an old potato masher that was sheathed in silicone. You already know that cooked potatoes leave a residue that’s nearly impossible to wash off of anything; now imagine that residue tucked inside a silicone grid. I’d have an easier time cleaning up a dead body.

Honorable mention goes to cast-iron pans. I am still in the “cast-iron pans are bullshit” camp, and if you’ve ever tried to wash one after cooking pretty much anything—especially if a marinade with any sugar in it is involved—you know where I’m coming from. Lodge can go to hell.

Ben:

I do not separate my laundry. I throw everything in at the same time, and nothing bad ever happens, even when I’m washing brand new clothing. So I ask you: do we really need to separate our light clothing from our dark clothing, or is this just BIG LAUNDRY trying to get us to use more detergent?

Probably the latter. If I were still single, I would absolutely not give a shit about separating my laundry. Everything would go into the washer on cold, and that would be that. I was one of those college kids who never did my own laundry on campus. Ever. I legit can’t remember if I used a laundry service and charged it to my folks, or simply re-wore everything all the time and then brought it all home in a giant bag for my mom to do whenever I came home from break. Either way, it explains why girls never talked to me.

But I’m married now, and I also care about my clothing, like, 15 percent more than I used to. I help out with the laundry now. Not enough, but I do take care to separate out the pile, put the water on the right temp, and not overload the washer. Separating out the pile helps keep the colors from washing out over time, plus you can add bleach to your whites if you just shat your undies for the third straight day. Pretty vital moment in your laundry day. But again, if you think separating colors is a waste of time and you’d rather get loaded instead, I won’t blame you.

Morgan:

Do you think Trump has ever been offered a hit of a joint? What was his response?

Everyone alive has been offered a hit off a joint, even babies. But Trump is like eighth grade me in that he thinks smoking weed is for the weak and the strange. So he was probably like, “Lotta people offer me marijuana, and I mean the best of the best marijuana. They’re offering me marijuana from Spain, which is a VERY big marijuana country. Big, big one. But I always turn them down and do you know why? It’s called talent. I have it and they don’t.” And then he left the room but forgot to open the door, banging right into it.

Mark:

Yesterday was my birthday, and my girlfriend of three years broke up with me. Granted, this was a long time coming, with other breakup conversations and a couple reconciliations. But still! That’s gotta be the absolute worst breakup ever, right?

Sure, but when IS a good time to break up with someone? Like, does it ease the sting if you do it after walking out of an anniversary screening of The Godfather II? Should you do it on a boat? Is it better to break the news first thing in the morning so that they have the day to move out all of their shit? Dumping someone on their birthday makes for a good “Can you believe they did that?” story to tell your friends and internet columnists, but getting dumped sucks anytime. It would have sucked the day before your birthday and the day after, too. You’re never gonna be like, “Well she dumped me, but she did it over steaks at Morton’s, so I actually feel great about it.” That’s not how it works. If you’re the dumpee, it’ll always feel cold and calculated. If you’re the dumper, any time is the right time because you’ve finally made your choice.

You know when I broke up my ex? In the dead of night. 3 a.m. It was a lousy relationship, and I’d tried to break up with her many times beforehand, only to get roped back in. Well one night at her apartment, we were both up and she was going on about how much she despised my family. So I said, “OK, that’s it,” then I grabbed all my shit and left. Walked the 30 blocks home to my apartment instead of cabbing it. Best walk I’ve ever had. I knew I wasn’t going back this time. I knew it was over, and it was. I never saw her again. It was an unorthodox time of day to break up with someone but again, ANY time is gonna feel weird to the aggrieved party. I didn’t care about the time or the place. I just wanted to go, and I did. I met my wife six months later.

Alistair:

If Jesus came back to Earth and was quickly taught how to use a computer and Google, what is the first thing he would search the internet for?

Probably Pilate, to make sure he was dead. Then he’d look for boobs.

Brad:

How do you travel with your back problems? I have similar issues, and I’m a little concerned about an upcoming overseas flight I’m taking in a few months.

I do better on my planes than I used to, because I have a system in place. This system consists of me bringing an extra t-shirt onto the plane, rolling it up, and then using it as lumbar support. Thin hoodies work, too. I’ve even used my Kindle for this job, but that once ended with me forgetting it was behind me and leaving it on the plane. Bad idea. Regardless, improvised lumbar support is key.

Also, I get up a lot. Even if it’s not to piss, I’ll get out of my seat just for a quick stretch in the aisle. If you stay in one position for too long your back eventually rebels, so it’s important to move around as best you can, even if other passengers stare at you for being a stander guy. And always make sure you’ve got room for your feet under the seat in front of you. There are people who stuff whole backpacks down there, and that blows my mind. I’m angry at those people on behalf of their spines. You gotta make full use of the miniscule amount of foot space American Airlines provides you, otherwise you will end up in utter anguish.

HALFTIME!

Adam:

Everyone is horny for sports memorabilia, but is there a specific movie prop you wish you had? There are super famous movie props that I’m sure are widely coveted like the idol head from Raiders, Luke’s light saber, the necklace from Titanic, etc. I am neither particularly nostalgic nor much of a collector, but I always wanted the brass balls Alec Baldwin pulls out of his briefcase in Glengarry Glen Ross because, well, A LOT of reasons.

What about the steak knives, though? I’d actually use the steak knives. You get the brass balls and then what? Put them on your desk? The kitsch value wears off and then you become David Tepper a week later. All that shit has diminishing value once you actually own it. The novelty of seeing it disappears and it eventually becomes clutter, unless it’s something you use, or it’s an active piece of furniture/wall hanging, or it’s something you can wear. Like Tom Reagan’s hat from Miller’s Crossing. I’d prize that hat like it was my fourth child. Otherwise, collecting all that shit makes you a fanboy creep, like Harry Knowles or even John Lasseter. If I walk into your house and there’s a gallery of authentic Aardman clay figurines and Star Wars set miniatures everywhere, I’ll know you’re a diddler. All that shit is best taken in small doses.

Case in point: I’ve been to Comic Con three times—twice in San Diego, once in New York—and they have multiple halls dedicated to this kind of shit. You can stare at, and even buy, full-sized Terminator endoskeletons, Darth Vader masks, swords and axes from The Lord of the Rings (movie weaponry is very much something close to my heart), etc. Most of these are replica props, but they’re still fun to stare at. Same deal with all the actual props on display at Planet Hollywood. I can deride that shit as tacky, but the boy wonder in me is like, “I’d like to have all this in my boycave, alongside a professional-grade air hockey table.” Those are some of my smallest dreams, but they’re deeply gratifying ones. They’re also best left as dreams, because I don’t wanna own a Terminator and then have to buff it with silver polish every other week. That’d suck.

Gavin:

The wife and I just completed an arduous trek through a serious home renovation. One of the things I demanded was a very fancy bidet. I mean top of the line. The kind with the heated seat, heated water for cleansing, a motion sensitive light so I don’t go blind if I have to go in the middle of the night. True luxury. So, my question: do I have to wash my hands after I poop? There is literally no wiping with this machine.

Why not simply wash your hands IN the bidet? Why should your asshole get exclusive rights to all of its wares? That strikes me as horribly unfair.

I do not own a bidet, although readers of this site have endorsed them to me so many times in the past that I’m right on the verge of dropping the hammer and getting one. However, I have had a few pristine shits in my time. That sounds impossible coming from someone who ingests as many carbohydrates as I do, but it’s true. I’ll wipe clean, then think to myself, you know, my hands didn’t REALLY touch anything dirty in that transaction… maybe I don’t really need to wash them. But then I wash my hands anyway. Better safe than sorry etc, and also I’m so wired to wash my hands after sitting on a toilet that I can’t help but hit the sink immediately thereafter.

This would also be true if I used a bidet. My hands would likely be as clean as they had been prior to washing up, but 1) My hands probably weren’t that clean to begin with, and B) There’s not much downside to soaping them up, even if it’s superfluous. Now, both middle age and the pandemic taught you and me that if you wash your hands TOO much, you end up stripping away your outer layer of epidermis entirely. But I’m back to pre-pandemic levels of hand-washing, which means that I could always use one more round. So if you own a bidet and you literally didn’t touch shit, I’d still say you should wash your hands after pooping. After all, what would people say if you didn’t?

Matt:

If someone asked you to play the Michael Douglas character in a remake of the movie Falling Down, would you accept? Would such a movie even be released these days? 

I wouldn’t accept, even though I fucking loved that movie when it came out. I was just the right age and intellect to get off on D-FENS ransacking a corner store because they don’t charge prices from 1950. The thing I remember most about seeing Falling Down in the theater was that we were sitting in front of a few loudmouths, so my mom turned to them and said, verbatim, “Why don’t you just shut up?” And then they did. My mom isn’t the type to swallow her tongue.

That said, if they remade Falling Down today and put Mel Gibson in the lead role, they would scrub out the more humane parts of it (Michael Douglas ruining a Nazi’s shit, “I’m not … economically viable,” etc), film it in BrandonVision 3000, and make $3 billion at the box office. Don’t kid yourself otherwise.

Jacques:

Months ago you called out the “denizens of Manasquan” on The Distraction and I gotta know what’s your opinion/beef with it? I grew up in the town over (Brielle) for the first 24 years of my life and need the Magary details!

I use Manasquan as my boilerplate Jersey Shore reference for extremely boring reasons. Way back in the early 2000s, my wife and I got into a quarter-share in Spring Lake, which is due north of Manasquan on the shore. It was a filthy house where we got drunk and then headed out to filthy bars for the night, many of which were located in … Manasquan. The Parker House, etc.

As you know, the Jersey Shore, Manasquan included, is extremely trashy. But it also happens to be the right kind of trashy for my sensibilities. I love dirty outdoor bars. I love people-watching at crowded beaches. I love boardwalk funnel cakes. I love all that shit. So I enjoyed throwing up in Jersey for exactly one quarter of a summer. NJ Transit is the worst fucking thing to ever exist, but the Shore itself? I kid because I love.

Evan:

As a fellow “very rarely watch basketball” person, it surprises me people aren’t more up in arms about how absolutely inconsistent fouls are called in the NBA. I see an awesome sequence of events and automatically hesitate before reacting, in case a whistle is called. It really yanks me out of high energy moments.

I don’t give a shit about foul calls anymore. I get more sport out of fans eye-banging the free-throw count and then charging the corpse of David Stern with conspiring to rig the game. But aesthetically speaking, I got used to fouls a million years ago. Same as I did with diving in soccer. Foul stoppages are never as egregious as they are in football, plus they include vital free throw drama as your reward for enduring a break in the action. Also, the NBA instituted the Harden Rules just this season to help limit foul-baiting from beyond the arc, and it’s worked. Tough shit for you, Trae Young. As a result, I rarely have moments where I feel cheated by a foul call. That just gives me a second to dick around on my phone anyway.

Besides, complaining about bad fouls is older than bad fouls themselves. It’s right up there with “He should get called for traveling on every possession!” among ancient boomer NBA takes. Avoid.

Hunter:

Do you think you have a winning fan record? Like, did the team you were rooting for win while you were in attendance? Neutral games don’t count (e.g. I’ve been to a Reds/Brewers game while in Cincy but I’m a dodgers fan and didn’t care for the outcome). I’d like to think all the USC football wins during the Pete Carroll years would bolster my record but the season tickets my family shared for the Clippers from 99-08 definitely ruins my chances of having a winning record.

Do youth sports games count? Because my son’s soccer team just had an undefeated season, which I will chronicle in Item 7d(vii) of Ten Things I Think I Think at the bottom of this column. Otherwise, my answer is still yes. I went to Twins games back when they were World Series Champions, and every regular-season Vikings home game I attended in person was one that they won, because they almost always won at the Metrodome. The numbers say that the home team wins more often than they lose, which means you’re more likely than not to get your money’s worth if you go watch games regularly. Is that still true if you’re, like, a Reds fan? No. But I’m talking macro here.

The only time I saw the Vikings lose at home was in a preseason game against New Orleans. There were Saints fans sitting two rows behind us. They were the fucking worst. I hope they’re dead now.

Larry:

Breh Jeff Van Gundy is the Collinsworth of the NBA. Just a fucking excellent analyst who helps you understand what you’re seeing in more depth. 

I’ll take your word for that. Mostly I’m still hung up on JVG doing a whole game while openly suffering from COVID. I frankly found COVID Van Gundy more interesting to listen to than the healthy incarnation. Can’t believe someone breh’ed me over Jeff fucking Van Gundy.

Email of the week!

Allen:

There’s an upcoming State Senate primary here and it presents an interesting personal dilemma. One candidate is a longtime activist, someone who has been working for change for some time outside the system and has decided to shift to working within it. Their ideology matches up well with my own in pretty much all the ways that matter. The other candidate is a friend of mine. I’ve known them for close to 20 years at this point. I mean, they were at my wedding. We’re not best buds or anything, but we’re very much still friends. Their politics trend more toward the middle than my own, though we’re not in vehement disagreement on anything. Of course, I’ll cast my vote for my friend. Do I think they’ll do a good job? I do. Maybe not quite as good a job as the other candidate would, but it’s close enough that I have no qualms. But it got me to thinking: if you had a friend running for office, how wide would the gulf between your respective beliefs have to be before you considered voting for the other person?

Not very. I’d just vote for the better candidate and then lie about it.