E.T. meets Scanners/Altered States meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind meets Goonies meets Silent Hill, all with the John Carpenter soundtrack from Escape From New York or The Thing… In the simplest terms, this is how best I can find (which still doesn’t quite explain it) to define Netflix’s latest original series Stranger Things.
The series is created by the Duffer Brothers for Netflix and aired on the streaming service on July 15th, 2016. It runs for eight roughly fifty-minute episodes. Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard (which, isn’t that a badass name?), Millie Bobbi Brown, Natalia Dyer, and Matthew Modine, among others star in this sci-fi/suspense/horror/drama series.
Set in 1983 in small town Indiana, Stranger Things is the story surrounding the sudden and eerie disappearance of a young middle school aged boy. His friends, his brother, his mother, and the town’s sheriff all become caught in a web of intrigue as they search for clues to find him. A government cover-up and the appearance of a strange, shaved head young girl only add to the mystery of Stranger Things.
The largest criticism I’ve read of this series is that it is nothing original or new. And, to be fair, no it isn’t. The pieces of the puzzle that build the plot, the world, and the aesthetic of the show aren’t on the whole original, but in many ways this series is a huge homage to everything Spielberg, Carpenter, Raimi, and likeminded directors created in the 80s. It takes the wonderful formulas each of those directors developed on their own and mixes them into a batch that, while individually may feel derivative, creates something both wholly new and extremely familiar with the series.
And that’s the true magic. With all the reboots and remakes of old loved movies and television shows, there is always something missing as producers and executives try to rekindle the original magic. Occasionally it works, but often it is a disaster. What happens here is a completely original plot and property instead of a remake/reboot, but creators who have obviously done their homework and are passionate about making it feel like works that most people would never dared imagine attempting to remake. As much as it is different from It Follows and The Guest, they all share the similar philosophy of creating something original that feels like a remake (at least that’s what it feels to me).
After watching the entire series (which eight episodes aren’t that much to watch) the ending of series also does something wonderfully that other television series desperately need to learn from. I felt satiated and the major questions of the season were answered. With that though, a trail of breadcrumbs appeared leading to new questions which given a second season will lead to a new plot and new mysteries. There is the obvious intent of the writers and creators to have the story worked out before day one of script writing. I’ve watched enough television to question whether this regularly happens in the writers’ room of most series. And that’s not a bash against the ending of last season’s The Walking Dead because I understand cliffhangers on long-running series (even if I thought the season finale was underwhelming for other aspects).
Above just the writing and the feel of the show, the acting is stellar. Winona Ryder made me forget why I thought she was a horrible actress. I use to think it even when I secretly loved Alien Resurrection (or as I like to call it: Joss Whedon’s First Failed Attempt at Firefly) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (seriously she and Keanu are laughably horrible in that film next to a cavalcade of some of the greatest actors ever, but I love that movie nonetheless). The kid actors are all great as well, as most of them carry a huge brunt of the dramatic arc as well as the humor of the show. Matthew Modine does a great job as a villain of sorts, but more importantly lead to that all important discussion between my wife and myself about which 80s and 90s movies we thought he may have been in but wasn’t (I got Cutthroat Island right but otherwise generally confused him for Anthony Edwards, Eric Stoltz, and many other generic 80s guys).
The Bottom Line:
Overall, Stranger Things is one of the absolute best new shows out there, period. Whether it is the reference to the X-Men (and most appropriately Uncanny X-Men 134: the first appearance of the Dark Phoenix), Lord of the Rings, Dungeon & Dragons, or any other copious Easter Eggs or references, this series is really for those who love and invest their time in all things nerd-related. You’ve found yourself on this site for a reason, and as such I think in many ways this show is probably a love letter to the things you want to write love letters about as well. That’s what makes us nerds, right? The love of our niche pop cultural properties. I can’t help but imagine that you’ll also find something to love with this series. – 9.5/10
Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine