Stranger Things Season 4 introduced a lot of new elements to shake things up as the show inches closer to an ending. The show has started to change its tone this season, with a scarier and more mature aesthetic than previous seasons, and a new plot inspired by the 80s classic. Nightmare on Elm Street. But the thing that really shot some life back into the show was the addition of new characters. One of the major additions to the cast is Argyle, the stoner burnout played by Eduardo Franco. The long-haired slacker is now what feels like the show’s 6th comic relief character. On paper, that already sounds like he serves no purpose in the story other than to annoyingly relieve tension. But between Franco’s hilarious performance and writing that’s more clever than the average show, Argyle manages to rise above his sidekick prison.
Argyle’s introduction, combined with his anthem “Pass the Dutchie” by Musical Youth, tells you everything you need to know about him. He is the person that Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) befriends after his family moved to California. He was most likely the catalyst that led to Jonathan becoming a stoner; he works as a pizza delivery man, drives like a lunatic, is very easy going, but is kind of absent-minded. He has big himbo energy. All the hallmarks of the stoner best friend archetype, much like how the rest of the cast neatly falls into other character archetypes from 80s movies. But as each episode progresses there is a slightly deeper, more thematic layer to Argyle that begins to unravel. The more he hangs around our Stand by Me styled characters that make up the rest of the cast, he no longer just stands out because of his chill vibes and neon clothes. He’s written like a character out of the 90s, not the 80s.
This distinction first shows up subtly. Stoner comedies through the decades have massively changed. Back during the height of Cheech and Chong it was more like sketch comedy. In mainstream Hollywood movies of the 80s, stoner characters barely acted like stoners. For comedy reasons they were always written as if they were on something way harder. Bill Murray is supposed to be a stoner in Caddyshack, but with his mania in that movie coupled with how dedicated he is to destroying a rodent, Bill Murray is acting more like he on cocaine. Then in other movies, characters that are high are treated like they’re on LSD or acid. Not to turn this into a drug PSA, but that is largely how it was portrayed in media back in the day. In the 90s the major shift came from the dialogue-heavy directors Kevin Smith and Judd Apatow.
In Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks and the vast majority of Kevin Smith’s View Askiewniverse films, stoner comedy transitioned to something more dialogue focused. By the time these two were making a name for themselves in Hollywood, stoners being portrayed like cartoon characters was on the way out. Stoner comedies got much more talky and grounded. The characters in Freaks and Geeks all act similar to Argyle. Instead of structured, set-up-punchline jokes, the jokes were dialogue-based. They were funny because of their general awkwardness and hyper-focusing on silly things, leading to some of the most iconic moments of 90s comedy, like any of Kevin Smith’s long monologues about the inner workings of the Star Wars universe. This style of humor caught on so much that it even informed stoner comedies up until now. This dialogue-based humor fits much better into the Stranger Things universe than the wackiness of previous the decade’s stoner comedies.
Yet, Argyle’s dialogue-based humor is more than just a quirky character trait. Being a bit ahead of the curve than the other characters, Argyle is showing how the show is growing up. The irony of showing the show growing up through the most immature character is a stroke of genius that makes the theme of this season feel less on the nose. Each character is in a massive transition period of their lives, a character like Argyle is almost needed to show how the world is progressing, whether these characters like it or not. As they each try to hold on desperately to elements from their past lives for comfort, the more they hold themselves back.
Argyle is even the one wise enough to let Jonathan know that this is what is happening. Argyle is able to see through Jonathan’s anxieties about his long-distance relationship with Nancy (Natalia Dyer). He recognizes that life is pulling the two of them apart and the only way to grow and progress in his life is to address that instead of continuing to ignore the conversation with Nancy.
This is what makes Stranger Things endure as much as it does. They almost never take the easy way out and rely on cheap jokes and references to keep people engaged. The show puts in the extra effort to let goofy characters like Argyle have a layered reason to stick around. If Argyle was simply just Jonathan’s stoner buddy, the show would continue to feel overloaded with too many characters. Argyle would be just another number added to the list of sidekicks in the show, and it would be exhausting. But because the creative team behind the show found a way to connect him to where the story was going thematically, he feels more important than he actually is, which is a trademark of clever writing.
Argyle is a shining star, which is why he surpasses being just a character trope. By the end of Part 1 of this season, Argyle has become a sort of audience surrogate. He’s the one telling Jonathan to move on as each season stretches his reasoning for being there even thinner. He is the one who acts like a normal person and freaks out at the horrors the rest of the lead characters have become numb too. He’s awesome, and a much more three-dimensional character than other shows would let him be. Now, if only we could get a scene where Argyle dramatically escapes from Vecna while “Pass the Dutchie” plays in the background.
Part 2 of Stranger Things Season 4 streams on Netflix July 1st.