Stranger Things has the perfect formula for success — kids riding bikes while on a mission, an Evil Dead reference, and synths. Beyond the aforementioned holy trifecta, Netflix’s horror/sci-fi hit has charm oozing from the dozens of references to Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and ’80s pop culture. It’s a period piece and a love letter to the Hollywood Midwest terrorized by boogeymen over the last 40 years.
Beyond being the best X-Files Monster of the Week extended episode ever, Stranger Things is a loose tribute to Indiana. You know, Hollywood’s Indiana. Eerie Indiana. The train tracks are just a bike ride away and you can smell the burned leaves piercing the crisp perpetual fall.
Writer, director, executive producers the Duffer brothers have jam-packed a full eight hours of horror and pop culture references into Stranger Things, so it’s entirely possible that Steve Harrington, Nancy’s flame, and possible future long-time boyfriend, is the father of Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Recreation.
On this subject, I have two theories.
Steve is Jean-Ralphio’s real father.
This theory is based on the belief that Dr. Saperstein is not Jean-Ralphio’s real father. We don’t know yet, but considering how the denizens of Hawkins, Indiana don’t seem to be through with the dark entity unleashed upon them, it’s safe to say Steve will eventually be taken to his doom, or will completely lose his mind.
In the latter case, perhaps Steve shames the family with his gasoline buying, nailbat-making ways. He goes to the psych ward (or is eaten by a monster) with Nancy following in his footsteps. However, they have twins — Jean-Ralphio.
In swoops Steve’s brother (Dr. Saperstein) who was away at medical school. He raises little Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa, his real daughter, changing their names to shield the family from a prying media and Steve’s (rightful) madness. They pick up and move to nearby Pawnee, where Dr. Saperstein holds dark secrets. That’s why he spoils his children. He is a tragic figure.
Now, here’s the evidence for Jean-Ralphio being Steve and Nancy’s baby. Or as we’ll refer from here on out to as S+N=J-R.
Steve comes from money. He’s got the only heated outdoor pool I’ve ever seen in Indiana, and for whatever reason, his relative mansion is in close proximity to a home inhabited by an underpaid single mother. This is peak Indiana. It all makes sense geographically, too.
According to the Parks and Rec wiki, we know Pawnee, Indiana is located 90 miles from Indianapolis and 35 miles past Bloomington. Hawkins, Indiana is a hop, skip, and a jump from Indianapolis. We know this because Jonathan seeks out his father in the big city while looking for his brother Will, and is back home in time for dinner.
Perhaps the most damning evidence of all is Steve’s big hair. He has a head of hair so incredible that people have to take notice. He has a head of hair like Jean-Ralphio, or should I say Jean-Ralphio has a head of hair like him. It runs in the family.
Unfortunately, there’s little information about Jean-Ralphio’s mother, but he said the following in season 6, episode 1 (London Part 2) when he’s referring to his father’s temperament, “I doubt it, he never gives up on anything, except for my mom. When she turned 30, he was like, ‘get oooouuuuuutttt!’” — could that be Nancy? Could Dr. Saperstein have formulated a story to shield Jean-Ralphio from the truth about his parents?
Think about it — no one really knows who Jean-Ralphio is. We know he has a “twin sister,” and we also know Jean-Ralphio was born in 1985 — two years after the events of Stranger Things. Nancy and Steve, like so many couples, had an unexpected child early on in life. Maybe that child was Jean-Ralphio, and possibly even Mona Lisa, his (supposed) sister.
Perhaps they were taken care of by their rich grandfather that left Jean-Ralphio the money to start Entertainment 720? Remember, that would be Steve’s father, the man with an outdoor heated pool in a small town in Indiana. Just look at Steve’s house — it’s a veritable mansion compared to the rest of what Hawkins has to offer.
Jean-Ralphio’s name may also hold a clue to his lineage. Jonathan, Will’s brother, was one of the main heroes of the incomprehensible incident in Stranger Things. He even had a bit of a spark with Nancy, which led to Jon and Steve getting in a fight before teaming up to rid Jon’s house of a trans-dimensional terror. Naming your son after the guy who was willing to die for you, and the guy who you bought an expensive camera for one Christmas seems to make sense. Jean = Jon. Jean-Ralphio is named after Jonathan.
Beyond the name, head of hair, money, and looks, let’s keep in mind that Steve and Jean-Ralphio have many of the same traits. They both burst out into song, for example, and both are kind of jerks with a heart of gold. Steve hates doing any sort of work and has issues with his parental figures. He’d much rather be goofing off. Sound familiar?
While each one of these traits may not seem like much on their own, when combined, a fair description of Steve is essentially a description of Jean-Ralphio. His son.
Theory 2: Pawnee may be a sunny version of the Upside Down
After multiple viewings of the entire series, it’s clear nothing about Parks and Rec makes sense. A good, kind woman has nothing but success in politics while rarely breaking her left-leaning code in a red state of which Mike Pence is the governor? Oh, what’s that? Pawnee is a fictional part of Indiana? Pence isn’t the governor in that universe? Anything can happen in this strange Indiana? Exactly.
If the multiverse offers unlimited variations to any moment in time and space, and we have a monster that’s opening portals to a shadow realm (there are infinite possible Upside Down shadow realms), it’s entirely possible that one of these Upside Downs is an Indiana that is far too sunny. This Los Angeles version of Indiana, where everything is nice and simple. One where a Jean-Ralphio wreaks havoc upon Pawnee.
Theory 3: Jean-Ralphio is Sunny Pawnee’s Upside Down monster
Jean-Ralphio has never succeeded, and yet he still exists. Everything he’s involved with, everything he does, from Entertainment 720 to his human relationships are sucked into a hellacious black hole. Jean-Ralphio sucks souls. He takes the life from people, places and things without a hint of remorse. He is pure evil. Just like the monster.
In the multiverse, this is just a different version of Jean-Ralphio:
Also, through all of Parks and Rec, we hear about various people having bowel movements. These people are unquestionably human. They show empathy and emotions. However, have we ever heard about Jean-Ralphio visiting the bathroom? No. Why? Because he’s metaphysical. He’s part of the Upside Down.
S + N = J-R
When you deal with portals throwing people into randomized infinite instances of time and space, things can get confusing. Maybe Jean-Ralphio is obnoxiously sucking the souls of everyone he comes into contact with, maybe he isn’t. Maybe he’s just a bumbling kid who never knew his parents once fought a demon from an alternate universe. In the end, the only constant in this timeline is that S + N = J-R. That much we know.