Inspired by the success from their first wave of original programming, which included House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Narcos, Netflix doubled their output in 2016, announcing a line-up with 31 scripted original series. Releasing amongst a slate of shows like DareDevil season two, a Judd Apatow-developed romantic comedy series, and a Full House reboot, Stranger Things was by no means a guaranteed success pre-release, and some on the cast and crew felt it would get lost in the shuffle. McLaughlin says, “They were like ‘This is great, but what if it doesn’t do well?’ and I said, ‘No, we are going to get season two.’ The day before it came out, I knew it was going to go viral. People were going to love it, it’s going to be one of the biggest shows.”
Viral doesn’t even begin to explain the success of Stranger Things. It’s more like an intoxicating cultural phenomenon. Symphony Advanced Media states that 14.07 million people watched the show within its first 35 days on the streaming service. It gained immediate love from fans, critics, adults, and children. A perfect storm of nostalgia, horror, gore, comedy, and drama which swept away everyone in its wake. And its stock has soared since its release. Stranger Things has become the flag bearer for Netflix, as it has provided a roadmap for success in the age of streaming wars. In its three seasons, it’s been nominated for 31 Emmy Awards, four Golden Globes, and three Grammy Awards. McLaughlin’s personal trophy case is decorated with a 2018 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, and the 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Performance by a Youth.
By the time Netflix dropped the third season on Independence Day in 2019, Nielsen reported 26.4 million people watched the show within its first four days, establishing a new record. Furthermore, over 800,000 viewers binged the entire eight episodes its first day; a feat totaling 21 hours. “I spoke it into existence,” McLaughlin declares, with an inimitable air of confidence.
Over the course of Stranger Things’ three electrifying seasons, McLaughlin has not only fought off Demogorgons sneaking into our reality from the Upside Down dimension, and helped save the world on three separate instances, he has also adopted the label of Hawkins Resident Fashion Icon, with his outfits becoming almost as memorable as the show itself. Take, for example, the tropical colored printed hat he pairs with a blue trim, white tank top throughout season three. And you can’t speak about Stranger Things couture without mentioning his season one look: a camouflage, military bandana knotted as a headband. It’s an accessory that has become as synonymous with the show as Eggos. For its existence, you can thank the the bearer. “I take that idea. 100% me, no one else. I’m very proud of it,” he says, his voice rising with each syllable. “When I was younger, I would go out and play with my sister in our backyard. I would put on the Captain America mask and put a cape on to get ready, and it was Lucas’ moment to put on the bandana and utility belt. If he had the utility belt and wrist rocket, he definitely had a bandana.”