This weekend the streaming service Netflix unveiled their latest Original Programming show Stranger Things upon the public. Set in the 1980s surrounding the mysterious disappearance of a small child in small-town Indiana, the show has become a bona fide hit. Already with a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, critics and fans alike are delivering high praise for the eight-episode television show steeped in nostalgia, science fiction, action, comedy, and horror. The show pays homage to many of the classics from the 1980s as well, drawing influence from Stephen Spielberg, John Carpenter, Stephen King, and many others. Many fans are already clamoring for a second season, and Netflix hasn’t even said if they were going to do one. Rest assured, if Marco Polo can get a second season, Stranger Things will sure get one as well!
So how does the show stack up? Needless to say, it’s awesome! The marketing of this show has not been as big as some of Netflix’s other releases like Orange is the New Black or House of Cards, but this could very well be one of Netflix’s best Original Programming shows to date. This is a show anyone who is a fan of various genres (horror, sci-fi, mystery, comedy, action, and even a little romance) can appreciate. For a show that’s labeled TV-14 by Netflix, there are a lot of Ault issues, language, and a bit of gore as well. The show is acted exceptionally well and operates more like an eight-hour movie than a TV series. It’s bound to make a lot of fans after this weekend when word of mouth sets in on the show. Here are a few things about the series that makes it worth watching.
At Its Core, It’s About a Group of Friends.
Although the show delves heavily into science fiction and horror elements, it’s the characters that really make the show worth watching. The show follows four friends: Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp). When Will goes missing the three others embark on a quest to find their friend and make sure he’s safe. These four kids are all geeks. When they aren’t doing things with the AV club at their school, they are playing Dungeons and Dragons and talking about Lord of the Rings and Empire Strikes Back. They call a famous forest they hang in “Mirkwood” after the famous forest from Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. When they are debating who they should trust, they say the culprits just might “be a Lando” when referencing Lando Calrissian’s betrayal of Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back. These kids would be the “cool ones” today, but the show takes place in the 80’s when being a geek was, well lame.
If the kids are seen as inauthentic, we won’t buy the show. One of the cool things is to cast a group of young actors who actually come across as genuine. This isn’t a group of 20-year-olds pretending to be in middle school. The actors in this not only act great, but they come across as “real.” Their dialogue, decisions, and mannerisms remind us of how we used to be with our friends during the 1980s.
Their dedication towards each other is also a big selling point. When one is being bullied on, they all stick up for each other. And when one of them is possibly kidnapped by some monster, they dedicate themselves and the ingenuity to finding their friend at any cost. They are a little too grown for their age as they consult with their science teacher for theories of alternate dimensions to help discover “The Upside Down.” The kids are very funny as well. The standout is probably Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin, whose foul mouth is surprising (for something rated TV-14) and hilarious at the same time.
Eleven Is Awesome!
As the boys embark their quest to find Will, they go into “Mirkwood” forest and find a young girl with a shaven head and a hospital gown who is mute. The boys take her in and slowly befriend her. Although she begins the show pretty much a mute, her evolution throughout the eight episodes progresses and she becomes a member of the gang. Because not much is known about her past (even she doesn’t know her name), she is called Eleven based on a tattoo she has on her arm. It is widely assumed that she is the eleventh child that is experimented on by the sinister Department of Energy on Stranger Things. The guys give her the nickname “El” to shorten it and give her a little more humanity.
As we are introduced to her, we get to see all sorts of really cool things she can do as a result of her experimentation. Eleven has developed telekinesis, telepathy, can see alternative dimensions, and many other gifts as well. She not only helps them deal with bullies threatening them in school, but she also helps them uncover what happened to Will and helps them rescue him. As with the other children, the show doesn’t work unless they have a great actress and Millie Bobby Brown delivers the goods.
The Monster Is Frightening
Stranger Things honors films like Jaws, Alien, and even Cloverfield where the monster is at first not seen. Throughout the storyline, we are given bits and pieces of the monster, which further heightens our anxiety of the monster. This is done with a chilling effect on the show. Within the first minute of the first episode, we get to see the terror the monster creates without seeing the monster. This makes for some great jump scares when it does attack and we are even more terrified because we don’t know what it looks like. We also see the carnage the monster creates in the form of leftover bodies or trails of blood, which further enhances our anxiety of the creature. When it is finally revealed (although it’s CGI), it is still scary.
The boys using their geekiness, liken the monster to the Demogorgon from Dungeons and Dragons. Whenever they reference the monster, it’s referred to as the Demogorgon. They plan to do battle with it the same as they would from the strategy game as well. Everything from arming slingshots to the teens arming themselves with shotguns, spiked bats, and bear traps to take on the main antagonist towards the end.
It’s SO 80s!!
Being that the show is set in the 1980s, it completely captures that time period. Everything from the clothes (everyone dresses like they are a member of The Breakfast Club), to just how life was back then. This was before everyone had a cell phone. This was when teenage kids could go off on bike rides in the woods without parents wondering if kidnappers would take them. This was teen could sneak into their boyfriend/girlfriend’s house without having to worry if the alarm would notify parents that the door opened. In fact, most of the parents on the show are relatively clueless to where their kids are throughout most of the show.
The music from the show is also very much 80’s centered. Songs featured on the show are:
- She Has Funny Cars – Jefferson Airplane
- White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane
- Africa – Toto
- Can’t Seem to Make You Mine – The Seeds
- Should I Stay or Should I Go – The Clash
- I Melt With You – Modern English
- Hazy Shade of Winter – The Bangles
- Tie a Yellow Ribbon – The Dawn
- Peter Gabriel – Heroes
- Waiting for a Girl Like You – Foreigner
- Atmosphere – Joy Division
- Should I Stay Or Should I Go – The Clash
- Elegia – New Order
- Nocturnal Me – Echo & The Bunnymen
- Sunglasses at Night – Corey Hart
- The Bargain Store – Dolly Parton
- Fields of Gold – Vangelis
- When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die – Moby
If the producers were smart, they would release the soundtrack the same way Marvel did for the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack.
When there isn’t music playing from the 80s, the instrumentals seem like they could have come from a John Carpenter movie. The opening credits are completely 80’s:
The Supporting Cast Is Top Notch
Winona Ryder shines as missing child Will’s mother, Joyce. She delicately balances a grieving and slowly turning crazy is such an exceptional way. As you get to spend some time with her throughout her story arc, you get to see her go through every stage of grief, all the while she is holding onto hope that Will is alive and will show up. David Harbour plays the chief of police Jim, who has his own side story that at first feels pointless, but pays off in a big way in the final episode. Charlie Heaton plays Will’s older brother Jonathan, who also has his own quest which goes along with Natalia Dyer, who plays Mike’s older sister. While the show centers on the kids, the adults also get a chance to shine.
It’s a Great, Compact Mystery That Pays Homage to the Classics
As the show centers on what happened to Will, we are treated to all sorts of goodies in every episode. Every episode further peels the onion on exactly what is going on. Everything from monsters, shadowy government agencies, superpowers, alternate realities shows up. They’re influences from E.T., Stephen King, It, The Goonies, The Monster Squad, Alien, The Thing, and many others throughout the show.
Not knowing if there was going to be a second season (there better be), the first season has a definitive start, middle, and end. The story this season does come to a definitive end, but it does lay the groundwork for a potential second season. The show is completely binge-worthy as each episode ends you can’t help but want to see the next as you get wrapped up in the mystery. This is something you should absolutely be seeing.