The Upside Down

The Crazy 'Stranger Things' Theory Connecting Steve & Jean-Ralphio

Jean Ralphio Steve Stranger Things
NBC/Netflix

Update: Actor Joe Kreery, who plays Steve on Stranger Things, says there’s an actual connection to Jean-Ralphio in Stranger Things 2. Read on for the full story.

With its unsolved mysteries, lingering questions, and complex mythology, Netflix's 2016 sleeper hit Stranger Things had us theorizing for months. What's going on in the Upside Down? What happened to Eleven? And can we meme ourselves using the amazing opening titles sequence?

But one fan theory emerged as the most convincing, mind-blowing revelation: Steve Harrington, Nancy's suitor with the well-coiffed hair, is actually the father of Parks and Recreation's resident bad boy entrepreneur Jean-Ralphio.

OK, catch your breath.

Almost immediately after the show debuted, viewers began to see similarities, noting that Steve, played by Joe Keery, bears a striking resemble to the Parks and Rec fan-favorite would-be Lothario portrayed by comedian Ben Schwartz.  Both characters are cocky, live in Indiana, and, most importantly, have amazing hair. A quick Twitter search reveals that many fans were both amused and a little creeped out by the splitting image.

But the theorizing didn't stop there. Soon after the show's debut, Uproxx put together three very convincing theories supporting the idea that Steve is actually Jean-Ralphio's father, and that Pawnee, the charming small town at the center of Parks and Rec, is actually a sunny inverse of the Upside Down. The author of the post even posited that Jean-Ralphio could be Pawnee's version of the Upside Down monster, a terrifying force that sucks souls.

I know: your jaw probably hurts from hitting the floor so hard. All this speculation raises an important question: what do the actors portraying these characters have to say about this wild speculation? Is this all a long-term ploy by the mysterious Duffer Brothers and Parks and Recreation creator Michael Schur to mess with our heads? Well, skeptics and haters, fear not: Schwartz confirmed the theory. 

Now, all we needed was confirmation from Keery, a 24-year-old actor (and budding psych-rock musician!) with only a few TV credits to his name before Stranger Things turned him into a subject of internet theorizing. It must be an adjustment, like when Aziz Ansari's Tom quit his job at City Hall to work at Entertainment 720 with Jean-Ralphio. What did this young man think of this sinister theory?

It turns out, like Schwartz, he's a fan. "I have seen some of (the fan theories)," Keery told USA Today this week. "My sisters keep sending me funny Steve/Jean-Ralphio things. But I love Jean-Ralphio. He was like my favorite part of Parks and Rec. He'd show up, tell the best jokes and leave. So, he's great."

The plot theckened. Sadly, Keery did not have any further plot details or potential season two spoilers to help us piece together this mind-altering puzzle. He told USA Today he wishes the Duffer Brothers would let him in on the secret. Bummer, right? 

Or -- and this theory could be crazy -- maybe Keery's comments are an elaborate-but-charming smoke screen to throw us off the path of what we all know will come true one day: the entrance of a time-traveling inter-dimensional Jean-Ralphio teaming up with Steve to solve mysteries in the Upside Down. In the twisted world of Stranger Things and Parks and Recreation fan theories, anything is possible, especially if they're flushed with cash after the success of season one. C'mon, Season 2 -- let's make this happen. 

Update: With the arrival of Stranger Things Season Two, fans have been scouring the new episodes for clues that might make sense of the Steve and Jean-Ralphio fan theory. Sleuths at the Huffington Post have already noticed a scene in Episode Three where Steve gets schooled on the basketball court by Billy, the new mullet-sporting bully in town played Dacre Montgomery. If you thought Steve would be a dominant force in the paint, you'll be disappointed. Billy humiliates him. 

But you know who else struggled with hoops? That's right: Jean-Ralphio. Check the GIF below if you don't believe us. 

Those are the types of moves a father could pass onto a son. According to a recent interview with the Huffington Post, the choice to make Steve a horrible basketball player was a subtle nod to the popular fan theory. “I think the basketball is the only hint, I would say,” said Joe Keery. “But if that’s the case, in real life Ben is an absolute, great basketball player. He has got a nice, sweet jump shot.”

In the same interview, Keery also joked about the existence of even more Parks and Recreation connections. “There was this entire plotline of the conception and the birth of Jean-Ralphio, but they just had to cut that for time, so hopefully they can fit that in next season,” he said.

Let the speculation about Stranger Things 3 begin. 

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter: @danielvjackson.