When I start talking to the TV, that’s how I can tell I’m invested in a show. It happened with the masterpiece that has been Daredevil, and it happened here, with Stranger Things. This show tackles real issues—like the burdens of loss and motherhood, and if there really is life after death—in an entertaining and captivating manor, but not without a certain level of gravitas (in no small part due to the writers). Just about everything in this show is brilliant; it’s no surprise that it took the Netflix world by storm. So, let’s get down to it: everything I like—and what I look forward to have continued—on Stranger Things.
First of all, the characters were brilliantly-written and fleshed out. From Winona Ryder’s grieving, no-nonsense mother character, to Millie Bobby Brown’s chilling, yet compassionate portrayal of the mysterious Eleven, there’s no such thing as a “weak character” in this show’s line-up. It was good to see familiar faces in this, too; besides Winona Ryder—who was phenomenal—Chris Sullivan (recently featured a sizeable amount in Luke Scott’s Morgan) was briefly a part of the cast, as well as David Harbour, previously seen in The Night Manager. The kids, though, were the main attraction, and they, indeed, stole the show. It’s like watching the quirkiness of the kids in The Goonies and the agency of those in Super 8 re-rolled into an adventurous, ‘80s-style package.
Speaking of which, there’s a lot of 1980s filmmaking injected into this story, as well. From the more technical aspects of the filming, to the on-screen feel, theme, and overall tone of the show, it’s made clear that the Brothers Duffer knew their ‘80s era and how to poke fun at and allthewhile celebrating everything that made the decade memorable to film buffs. There are references galore—both in the foreground and in the subtext—and always new twists and turns that kept me engaged. The series begins as an intriguing “whatdunnit”, combining real-life suspense and enticing sci-fi elements, without being overtly clichéd or recycled, in itself. Information is bled to the audience slowly, over many of the roughly-fifty-minute-long episodes before a real sense of climax is established and all that story begins to have some real and frightening weight to it.
I was really trying to deduce who—or what—all this story boiled down to, as I was moving through the eight episodes of this first season. Each one flew by, though, which I can only attribute to me being so involved in the plot. Watching it through, and reconsidering it now, it’s like something I’ve seen a thousand times, but with just enough variation to keep me interested…and guessing.
I liked that it was the kids who took center-stage, the ones who had to take action, rather than the (at first) complacent adults—much like in JJ Abrams’s Super 8. Then, when everyone finally started to get their act together and realize that what was happening to their middle-Indiana community was for real, the adult-child dynamic changed, and it was the older cast—specifically Winona Ryder’s character—that garnered all my attention. I loved that my perspective was always shifting as new information was presented.
The evolution of one character, in particular—Natalia Dyer’s Nancy—caught my eye. She went from head-down background character in the first few episodes to name-taker in the latter few. Rather than let her circumstances consume and define her, she overcame, and ended up playing a larger role in the finale than I’d ever thought she would. The same can be said about Winona Ryder’s Joyce. Not only is she the afflicted, grieving mother in this, but also the one that first cracks the mystery surrounding her son’s disappearance, and rallies those around her to take the battle to those responsible.
The use of flashbacks to Eleven’s “youth” was intriguing, and something that I hope the Duffers will continue to build upon in future episodes. She’s an interesting character—burdened by the horrors of her past, but able to look past her own problems when those she cares about need her. It’s her story arc that gives structure to this first season, and I can tell there’s a lot to still tell, on her behalf. Millie Bobby Brown is a talented young actress, capable of portraying an entire range of on-screen emotions and keeping her audience cued in, and I look forward to seeing her again—if not too much further in this show, then on other projects.
The very finale of this season made me feel like there was actually a point to be reached. I realize that’s the objective of individual television seasons, but it was different for Stranger Things; I wanted it more than any other finale I’ve watched prior, wanted the characters to prove themselves in the ring, to pull through. I’m glad to see this story will continue, and, even though no details have been leaked yet, season two looks promising. I’m excited to see where the Duffers take their cast in the future.
Stranger Things gets an overall *****/ from me. This was an excellent piece of television, and I was able to binge-watch the entire first season in just an afternoon. If you’re late to the party, as well, do look into this one. You won’t regret the time spent.
Next review: Sully