Stranger Things has become a phenomenon of American television, and I almost missed it. But after watching 18 hours of this science fiction series starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Matalia Dyer, Caleb McLaughlin and Noah Schapp, I see why it has become a favorite of both old and new school aficionados of the genre. But nothing’s perfect.
The story takes place in a sleepy town of Hawkins, Indiana, where a covert government project has wrought chaos and death upon an unsuspecting, trusting populous lost in their typical suburban '80s nirvana.
It's filled to the rim with pop cultural references that much of its viewing demographic would be hard pressed to recollect. But I do recall. From Dungeons and Dragons and Millennium Falcons to Saturdays spent at the local arcade, to green Pintos and big hair, it was hard for me not to be completely drawn in after watching the first 15 minutes of season one.
Written and directed by the Matt and Ross Duffer (Hidden, Wayward Pines), there are dozens upon dozens of homages to the directing icons responsible for the '80s movie magic that brightened the lives of millions such as Spielberg, Carpenter, King and Lucas.
Suspension of disbelief is imperative for an immersive viewing experience, especially when you’re dealing with sci-fi, a genre where anything can happen. When the viewers are free to lose themselves unquestionably in even the most fantastical concepts, it’s always a great feeling. Cultural references help cement the film in reality.
A love letter to the supernatural classics of the 80's, Stranger Things is the story of a young boy who vanishes into thin air. As friends, family and local police search for answers, they are drawn into an extraordinary mystery involving top-secret government experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one very strange little girl.
Winona Ryder pulled out every ounce of talent she could muster, from heartbreaking bouts of hysteria over the apparent loss of her youngest son Will, to bravery and conviction in rising to the challenge to bring him back from the nether, she channeled every aspect of motherhood imaginable.
An aspect of the show that’s very appealing is the growth of each central character from episode to episode, season to season. In the beginning, many of the principles start off as almost stereotypes and caricatures of the types of people we’d expect to find in a small Indiana town in the '80s; the working class single mom, the small-town cop, the high school bully, the token black kid, the academic wiz kid who wants to rebel, the “nerdy” kids that are cast out.
They’re designed that way, I believe, because they’re easy to understand. Making characters simple initially gives the viewer a baseline of what to expect from them.
Then, as we move along the arc of the story, we found they are changed significantly based upon what they’ve gone through.
This is not only apparent in Ryder’s character, but in each of the younger principles as well.
David Harbour plays Chief Jim Hopper effectively, with comedic disbelief, resigned acceptance, and determined doggedness in getting to the bottom of the truth.
The children are the most delightful part about Stranger Things, in my opinion. Though the adult cast is clearly well-versed in their craft, the children are stellar in that they remain children, not miniature adults. They have the sensibilities of children, the fears of children, the reactions of children. And I appreciated that.
Oftentimes, child characters are too insightful, too intelligent and too levelheaded. The dialogue, actions and motivations of some child characters is so adult as to completely suspend belief, but that’s not the case here. We see long forgotten customs of a bygone adolescence coming to life on the small screen.
Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven), Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas Sinclar), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin Henderson), Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler) and Noah Schnapp (Will Byers) did a great job in season 1, as did Cara Buono (Karen Wheeler) , Charlie Heaton (Jonathan Byers) and Joe Keery (Steve Harrington)—each of whom plays high school students. They continued their great work into the second season.
Another great thing about Stranger Things is that by having characters in three different age groups, pre-teen, teenaged and adult, the writer can deal with emotions, situations and personalities from three distinctly different vantage points. Which, in turn, provides for a greater chance to create tension and drama with which to push characters forward.
While season 1 deals with disappearance of young Will Byers, and its effect on those who loved him, season 2 deals with the loss of Eleven, who disappears while battling the monstrous demi-gorgon from another dimension at the end of season 1.
In addition, a dark malevolence is stalking Will from “the upside down” and threatens everyone. Meanwhile, the scientists of Hawkins National Lab, which is where the whole inter-dimensional tale originates, just keep poking the proverbial bear with a sharp stick.
The breach in time and space created by Eleven in season 1 has begun to fester and grow. Its effects are no longer confined to the grounds of Hawkins National Laboratory and have begun to affect the surrounding town.
Stranger Things is a great, albeit not entirely original (see: Eerie, Indiana), science fiction take on how the facade of normality lurks exists just before the unbelievable.
My singular damning criticism of Stranger Things overall is how we had to wait until well into the second season to meet the family of Lucas. We meet the parents of every other child or teenage major character on the show within the first five episodes of season 1. Why do we have to wait until near the middle of season 2 to see Lucas’ mother, father and sister—especially since they’re said to live right next door to Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard)?
Lucas, the only person not stuck in fantasy land. Watch Stranger Things on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/title/80057281 SUBSCRIBE: http://bit.ly/29qBUt7 About Netflix: Netflix is the world's leading Internet television network with over 100 million members in over 190 countries enjoying more than 125 million hours of TV shows and movies per day, including original series, documentaries and feature films. Members can watch as much as they want, anytime, anywhere, on nearly any Internet-connected screen.
Other than committing the major faux pas as creating a black character whose entire life revolved around other characters, thus making him a cardboard cutout lacking in depth and background, I really liked the series. Indeed, Lucas is much more than that within the context of the group dynamic; best friend to Mike, inquisitor of Eleven, antagonizer of Dustin, protector of Will.
But, as he was written in season 1, he didn’t exist outside of that group paradigm. It wasn't until later that I realized the random black couple in the crowd at Will's fake funeral were Lucas' parents. I mean, how could we have known without context?
It’s only one blemish. But, in my opinion, a major one. However, not enough of a blemish to make me stop watching. Also, I feel like they realized where they went wrong in season 2. Not only do we get to see much more of the entire Sinclair clan, but they give him a love interest as well.
Also, seeing as though the story takes place in 1983, no references to Michael Jackson that I can recall, and not one Hip-Hop reference either, is an eye raiser considering one was the King of Pop, the other is a phenomenon that is still culturally relevant today.
All in all, I liked Stranger Things. I like it a lot and hope the characters continue to grow as the situation in Hawkins gets wilder and wilder. Parental discretion advised.