Stranger Things is a science-fiction horror series that feels like it came out of scenic nowhere, created, written, and directed by the Duffer Brothers, the first season wowed audiences and the series has become one of the flag-ship programs for the Netflix streaming service. I can still remember when I first discovered the series, as a matter of fact, it was the first series I ever watched with my soon-to-be-wife. Pretty cool. The series went right along with my interests, but, for some reason, it took me much longer to watch it than it should have.
The first season brings known names like Winona Ryder and David Harbour, as well as a young-cast that includes Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Natalia Dyer, and many other faces I hadn’t seen before. With everything it has going for it and all of the positive acclaim it has received from audiences and critics alike, the question to ask is whether or not it is really up to snuff or merely a product of us enjoying the nostalgic aesthetics. Here are my thoughts …
The story opens by introducing us to the series’ lifeblood, our group of friends whose camaraderie and friendship is shown in all cylinders. Things take a dark turn, however, when a member of their “party” goes missing, leaving Hawkins townspeople scrambling to find the missing Will Byers. Meanwhile, a young-girl shows up and befriends the boys, possessing unique and mysterious psychokinetic abilities that they use to try and solve the mystery behind their friend’s disappearance.
Set in the 1980s, Stranger Things wears its many inspirations on its sleeve. I remember when I first heard about the series, I came across a Tweet by Stephen King who referred to it as a highlight reel of his work. When I first read that, I thought it sounded a little snippy, like he was taking credit for the newest popular series with great reviews.
Then, however, I watched it, and realized that a lot of Stranger Things does, in-fact, play like a highlight reel of his work. The characters and their “Stand by Me” relationships make it no surprise that the Loser’s Club were brought to the big-screen for the new “It” film after the success of Stranger Things, and with one of the “Stranger” cast members even playing one of the children. Even the font of the title vaguely looks like a Stephen King novel. He isn’t the only one either. The series takes clear inspiration from John Carpenter and Spielberg’s Poltergeist, and the video-game series Silent Hill. This isn’t a criticism, but an acknowledgment that a lot of what makes Stranger Things great has parallels to when someone else did it first.
I do believe Stranger Things contributes enough unique ideas to the genre to make it worthwhile. Also, I think it improves on each element in borrows for its concoction, offering a careful “Midas” touch. I believe we’ve entered a “golden age” in the horror genre in recent years and I think we’ve entered something of a “golden age” in long-form storytelling as well.
This isn’t to say that every horror film that hits the theater is a classic, because, honestly, many of them are not. However, with genre programming like Stranger Things and “Hannibal,” I’ve seen some of the most gratifying and entertaining moments ever brought to screen. Honestly, Stranger Things is the “best case” scenario for what it claims to be.
The characters are fleshed out and in-depth enough to keep me engaged, and the story-line is mysterious and intriguing enough to keep me invested. The young-cast can inject that nostalgic naivete and innocence without it feeling too cheesy or over-the-top, and characters like Hopper are able to tackle heavier more substantial things like having the loss of his daughter fuel him as a driving-force to find Will.
The series succeeds at hitting that sweet-spot of feeling sentimental and nostalgic, while feeling substantial and innovative. Also, even if the series certainly isn’t something I’d refer to as “scary,” its creatures and the execution of the “Upside Down” are absolute highlights, adding to the mystery of what hides beneath the curtain.
The first season of Stranger Things is a lot of fun, making for one of the most watchable programs I’ve seen in recent-memory, a statement I think holds true after multiple binging sessions. I’d highly recommend it to genre fans and casual-viewers alike.