TV Review: STRANGER THINGS (Season 1) – An Original Experience Fueled By Nostalgia
Growing up in the 90’s in a country that had only 1 channel where the only kids’ programming featured was an episode of ‘The Girl From Tomorrow’ once a week, I missed experiencing the classic 80’s movies. That is, until the wonders of Satellite allowed us to get cable. But even then, the films that would be considered classics, came to us a little late. So I spent my pre-teen years with Monty Python movies, and getting acquainted for the first time with films that became classics by that time.
So imagine the flood of nostalgia that washes over me when I discover a Netflix Series that capitalizes on those same feelings of epic 80’s films of a variety of genres to tell an original story seeped in homages throughout. It also helped that the series was actually good, despite that gimmicky premise.
So read on for my Review of Season 1 of ‘Stranger Things’ on Netflix.
Removing the period piece and nostalgic factors from the show, ‘Strangers Things’ features a story with multiple subplots that all begin with the mysterious disappearance of a young boy named Will, (Noah Schnapp) and how a conspiracy unfolds as his friends and family try to discover what truly happened to him.
The series harkens back to plot points and premises that we’ve seen multiple times, but is able to tell an original story with moving performances and characters that we automatically care about due to their similarities to characters archetypes from classic films set in a similar period. Recalling films like ‘E.T.’ and ‘The Goonies’, the main group of characters are three young boys, friends of Will, who stumble upon a strange young girl with mysterious powers, who may know something about his disappearance.
The few recognizable faces are that of Winona Ryder (‘Girl Interrupted’) as Will’s grieving mother Joyce, playing the role as frantically as she can, with great effect. Hearing voices she believes to be her son’s cries for help from somewhere, Joyce falls into a rabbit hole of obsession and psychotic behaviour, only to eventually realize that it’s not her, but other things at work beyond her control.
While she searches for answers, her eldest son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) stumbles upon something that leads him to believe his mother may not be crazy. Causing him to embark on his own adventure into what made his brother disappear, along with his crush Nancy, (Natalia Dyer) who also mysteriously loses someone close to her.
Character actor David Harbour (‘Suicide Squad’) plays Jim Hopper, the small town sheriff whose own grief mirrors that of Joyce’s as he realizes there is more going on in his town that he is aware of, or can explain. And the greatest get for a show set in the 80’s would be Matthew Modine, as the executive of a local power company who seems to be at the epicenter of the mysterious events.
‘Stranger Things’ features an entirely ensemble cast of brand new faces in all age groups, who surprisingly turn in brilliant performances.
Creators of the show, the Duffer Brothers are able to tell the season wide story of ‘Stranger Things’ using character archetypes that we are already all too familiar with. The nerdy group of boys, harboring a fugitive with powers as mysterious men bear down on them, along with hapless parents oblivious to the events, are plot points that we’ve all grown up with. The genius behind this, is that doing so automatically creates a connection between these familiar characters and the audience; makes us relate to, love and cheer for these characters, even if there was no character development, of which there was plenty.
One element where the series improves upon films of that era, is by developing every character into their own. No character is thrown away with stereotypical depictions, but are rather self realized characters. Specifically, Joe Keery’s Steve Harrington, playing love interest to Nancy. While not one of the major characters of the show, Steve intially starts out as the typical high school jock, bullying Jonathan, but eventually evolves into a character regretful of his actions, wanting to take responsibility.
‘Stranger Things’ is also able to do something with the horror genre that I personally find lacking today: an ability to scare and creep out, more from within than without. The series uses musical cues, shots abruptly cut, creative camera work and the suspense of what could be, than graphic & gory images of what is, to scare audiences. While the show tributes the stories of the 80’s, the creators are able to pay tribute to the storytelling techniques of the period as well. The synthetic tunes that comprise majority of the soundtrack, as well as shock and awe scenes bring back the scary within our imaginations, more so than through visuals.
The story unfolds at a pace that never feels too rushed, too intense or too slow. Feeding into its own formula, ‘Stranger Things’ makes use of a lot of pop culture references of the era that the show is set in, adding to the gimmicky premise even more. But despite all this talk of it’s nostalgic premise, the series is done so well and with such honest intentions, that you are genuinely sucked into that world (pun intended; watch the show) and get wrapped up in the events.
Millie Bobby Brown as El, the mysterious girl, has already cemented her character in geek culture as one of the more badass female fictional characters ever. The show has created stars out of both its on screen talent, as well the offscreen creators and writers involved.
With Season 2 already greenlight, and teased by Netflix, I am definitely excited for more ‘Stranger Things’ happening.