Every now and then there comes a show where everything just fits: the nostalgia factor, music, characters, acting, story, and art direction. I found that Netflix’s new series Stranger Things had the perfect blend of all of those variables and resulted in one fun series to watch.
Since Stranger Things premiered on July 15, 2016, it has been the buzz of Netflix binge-watchers and horror lovers alike. But this series is so much more than something you want to sit down and watch over eight hours (and don’t worry, you will). Merely consuming the series means that you will miss some of its best aspects, and there are some things that you will not want to miss.
The story itself is an intriguing mix of science fiction, horror, adventure, mystery, and kid movie (or as fellow writer Tara called it, “one long, awesome X-Files episode”). Right from the start, you will get some major The Goonies vibes, mainly because Stranger Things takes place in 1983, but also because most of the story revolves around young Will Byers and his friends, who are all twelve years old. In the first episode, Will goes missing after an absolutely terrifying encounter with a mysterious creature. The rest of the show is a series of twists and turns as Will’s family and friends try to locate him after his mother, Joyce (played by Winona Ryder) insists that he is alive. One important twist, though, is the inclusion of a government agency and their secret experiments – one of which is a young girl simply named Eleven.
What really got me was the attention to detail, even more so than the story initially did. Right off the bat, I was taken with the art direction, set design, and costuming. As a child of the 80s myself, it felt like I was looking into photographs from my childhood, and the crew nailed it. There are no cell phones or computers in sight; the kids take off on their bikes together at every free moment. The fashion was notably 80s, too, from the tapered jeans to the big hair. And oh, the music! Not only is the opening theme heavy on the synthesizer, but the closing credits usually feature some nice 80s hits (I was definitely rocking out to The Bangles).
One of my favorite parts of the show is the relationship among Will’s friends. So often in film and television, children are depicted, well, abnormally…whether in how they interact with each other, how they interact with adults, or even just the things they do. In Stranger Things, the kids do “kid” things: they ride their bikes all over town, interact via walkie talkies, get mad at and also love their parents…they tell each other secrets, they hug, they fight – I could go on. It was so refreshing to see how “normal” the kids are even though one of their best friends is missing. At no point did I find their actions or reactions unrealistic; the acting was phenomenal and a lot of that comes from the writing. On a similar level, I found the relationships among the older kids to be just as realistic, particularly the dynamic between Nancy and Barb.
The writing is great. It’s probably not one of those series that will win a ton of awards, but here is what I liked about it: it assumes that the viewers are intelligent. This is something often overlooked by television writers, but here, it works. Some things that need extra explanation are explained easily (such as the somewhat confusing “Upside Down”), and some things are glossed over, allowing viewers to come to their own conclusions. This is a great balance because it allows the viewer to be as engaged and active as they want to be. Active viewers will see those little references to Stephen King stories, Spielberg’s films of the 80s (oh my goodness, so much E.T.), and of course, as previously mentioned, The Goonies. Fortunately, you don’t have to be familiar with those things or even recognize the references to have a great time with this show.
Another standout for me was David Harbour’s portrayal of Chief Hopper. Harbour will likely look familiar to you as he is a staple character actor with small roles in just about everything, but he got to flex his leading man muscles in Stranger Things. He starts out as a bit gruff and not really “favorite character” material, but again, the writing saved the day by giving Hopper a plethora of layers, and Harbour gave an outstanding performance.
For as great as the series is, there were a few flaws. The most glaring was the treatment of Barb. Without giving away too much, I feel like the writers seriously let Barb down. She was hands down the character that I connected to the most, probably because she is the most like me at that age. And although toward the beginning it felt like she was going to be a major player in the series, the direction of her character just kind of tapered off, and was mostly forgotten by the end. I was incredibly disappointed because it felt like the writers didn’t know what to do with her – they wanted Nancy, Jonathan, and Steve to be the main teen players. They really dropped the ball for some amazing character development there.
As for the acting, well, it starts off a little shaky. In the first episode, I was seriously doubting Winona Ryder’s acting ability which made me incredibly sad because she used to be one of my favorites. By the end of the season, though, I felt that she found the rhythm of the character, and at times, her acting impressed me. Just try not to dwell too hard on her acting choices in the first couple of episodes – it gets better.
There were some parts of the story that had no resolution, which as a horror fan kind of irked me. The more that I thought about it, though, the more I think that it was done intentionally to leave the door open for subsequent seasons. I do, however, see this more as an anthology series where each season is self-contained rather than a continuation of the current story.
Overall, this is a story with heart. Matt and Ross Duffer (collectively known as The Duffer Brothers) created and directed the series, and it shows that it is truly a love letter to fans of the genre. Those little details become so special to the viewer, and it was genuinely fun to watch. I laughed, I cried, I applauded, and I got mad. Sure, it sometimes does play into the predictable trope, but sometimes that’s okay – if the rest of the story is good enough. Stranger Things really does have something for everyone, and it was a great ride.
Erin has reviewed many shows over the years including Orphan Black, iZombie, Penny Dreadful, and Killing Eve. She has a keen eye for on-screen chemistry, and loves to tackle the subject of casting. She is also our horror aficionado. She live tweets shows, and loves to share her feelings. Erin has a BA in History, and likes to analyze the lore behind historical fiction. She attends San Diego Comic Con every year and has also attended C2E2 and WonderCon.
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