Better Late Than Never
Stranger Things Season 1 Review
As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, there are only so many TV series a man can watch. I’ve let a lot of interesting shows slip by, the majority of them on streaming TV, because I simply don’t have the time. So when Stranger Things premiered on Netflix, and quickly became a cultural phenomenon last summer, I decided I had to let it pass like so many other great sounding series, like Bojack Horseman or The Get Down. Even after the kid stars stole the spotlight at the Emmys, I ignored it. Then the award nominations started coming in, and it got Best Drama nods from the Broadcast Critics and the Golden Globes. Then it managed an upset victory at the SAG awards. I gave in, and I’m so glad I did.
For one thing, the series is only eight episodes long, which means its even easier to get in to then say, Orange is the New Black. For another, there is a definite homage to some of the classic 1980s sci-fi and fantasy — Poltergeist, The Goonies, early Spielberg. But perhaps the series it reminds me the most of is a delightful gem called Eerie, Indiana, a delightful TV series in the early 90s that tried to be a satiric version of Twilight Zone for teens. The Duffer Brothers may not have consciously been reflecting that, but the series is set in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. Maybe Eerie is downwind?…
From the first two episodes, Stranger Things has a pleasant feel of what is like to be a young boy or teenager growing up in the pre-cell phone, pre video game world, where the average young geek could only live in worlds around their imagination. The pilot starts out with four young boys playing D & D in their basement, and then going home. Only one of them, Will Byers, doesn’t make it. This seems to run in parallel with some diabolical government event that has let something that sounds a little too much like the smoke monster from Lost. The next day, Will is gone and his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder, doing her best work in decades) becomes frantic. Hawkins is a small town, and Sheriff Harper (David Harbour), an ex-big city cop with a tragic past is still not sure of the magnitude of what is going on. Meanwhile, in the Hawkins Research Plant, a group of evil government and military officials (led by Matthew Modine, of all people) are searching something.. or someone. All of which seems to tie in to a mysterious child who will only call herself Eleven, and seems only capable of saying one or two words at a time. (By now, everyone knows Millie Bobby Brown).
Will’s friends are trying to find him, led by Mike Wheeler. When they come into contact with Eleven, they still have the youth and naivete to believe that their parents have all the answers. Then they see that Eleven ‘has superpowers’ , seems to know who Will is, and seems very interested in the D & D action figures they were using. I have some idea what’s going to come next, but for now, I will tread very lightly and talk in generalities.
Stranger Things seems to remember what it was like to be a scary show before computer effects and gore took all the subtlety out of it. It manages to get more thrills out of a few notes of music than some of the early 80s movies it pays tribute to. More importantly, it has a better feeling of what it was like to be a child in that now particularly bygone era, and what its like to be a loner in any era. There are bullies here, and angry parents, and the fun one could get out of a ham radio. As a child of the 80s, this resonates with me specific, but I imagine any outsider will love it.
Oh, the acting on this series is exceptional, especially Brown’s work, and the writing and effects are great, even when it comes to the opening sequence. But what should be most important for fans of Stranger Things is how fitting it is for the pre-teens at its center. There’s very little onscreen violence, and I haven’t heard a curse word that would be out of place on broadcast TV. It’s rated TV-14, and I could easily see the CW running it. If a network head was offered this series, and passed on it, he deserves to be devoured by a Gorgomite. Parents, binge-watch it with your children. Trust me, both of you will get something out of it.
My score: 4.25 stars.