Ever since the term “binge-watching” came to be, I had a hard time finding myself a part of the phenomena. Netflix has been considered the cornerstone of said trend, producing some of the greatest TV programming over the past few years – but it sadly never caught on in my household. Sure, there were series I was becoming a fan of – including BBC’s Musketeers, which I still consider one of the best shows out there, along with Outlander and Showtime’s Masters of Sex, so I’ve found a few shows that trigger that bit of addictive watching in me. But when I first saw the trailer for the new Netflix original show Stranger Things, I knew something seemed different – but in the best way possible.
I am a child of the late 80’s/early 90’s, a fact that has been made quite clear on this site since its creation. I adore things from that era more than any other time in history, not just because it keys into the nostalgia that I hold so near and dear, but because it shows a time of pop culture that even today’s current world of Game of Thrones and Marvel movies can’t seem to live up to. So when a show that is purely a love letter to that specific time in history is made, it is likely that I will enjoy it. But absolutely loving it? That is a hard thing to make happen. But I can say that Stranger Things accomplished that in more ways than one.
For those that haven’t been on the internet over the past few weeks, Stranger Things tells the story of a little boy who goes missing, a young girl with psychic abilities that has connections to the disappearance, and the people involved along the way. There are secret government agencies, school bullies, cheesy diners, walkie-talkies, Eggo Waffles …. oh, and terrifying monsters who may or may not come from alternate dimensions. If there ever was a recipe to creating the show of my dreams, creators The Duffers Brothers have concocted it.
Featuring unbelievably rich characters and storylines, it is hard to not connect with the series on not just a basic entertainment level, but something even deeper. Grief is a theme very common within the show, and flows much like the bodies of water that are shown throughout the 8 episode arc of Season 1. From the disappearance of young Will Byer, to the death of Officer Jim Hopper’s daughter Sarah (a fact revealed early in the series) which continues to haunt him, this notion of loss is a feeling that never seems to leave the characters, even those who have no emotional connections in the beginning of the series. Every person within the story has regrets, the kind that hang over their heads far after the final episode (or chapter) concludes, and I’m sure you (the reader) will likely know that feeling as well.
Of course, after an 8 hour adventure with this crew, I’ve come to love a few specific individuals…
Obviously, there’s the powerful little girl in question, Eleven (or “El” for short), who could be one of the most interesting female characters on TV at the moment. For one, much of the time throughout her journey, we see that the world can’t seem to figure out what to make of Eleven’s appearance. Since the story takes place in the 80’s, when gender identity was only starting to form into the shape it is today, it makes sense that a town seeing a little girl with a thin appearance and a buzzed head would likely come to the conclusion that she must be a boy or someone deranged. This fact, along with exploration of Eleven discovering what makes her feel whole and beautiful, is something that many within the world, and particularly the LGBT community, can find a sort of solace within. It isn’t often that the female hero of a modern TV series is a figure that is not sexed up, or in some realm, a bit glamorous, but instead gritty and plain as can be – and hopefully Eleven begins a more positive trend in that direction.
Then there are my two other favorites, who I like to think are the most honest and level headed members of the Stranger Things cast, and provided the closest thing to an audio commentary (until a boxset release) we will get for the show: Barb and Dustin. Both considered the “dorks” of their respected friend circles, each of them seem to understand what is happening within the story better than their friends do. And while they might not get as much screen time (or last too long at all for that matter) compared to others within the show, Barb and Dustin voice a lot of what the audience themselves think when the worst is going down. They tell it like it is, and seeing the situations these characters get in, they need someone to tell “The T” when opportunity comes a knocking.
There’s also the older members of the team – with Winona Ryder as Joyce (Will’s Mom) at the front of it. Here, Ryder proudly proves again that she is a force to be reckoned with in the acting world, and I seriously hope we see more of her in both (hopefully) Season Two and in more film/TV roles in general. Her emotional range and journey within the series is the kind of acting that often gets overlooked come awards season, but I truly hope Ryder gets recognized for her hard work on this show.
But the one star that is always behind the scenes, but also needs to be mentioned, is the music. Brought by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, it pays homage to the melodies and 80’s digital sounds that we know and love, but also brings in the fear and dread of the characters in such a unique and beautiful way that you’ll likely want to own the soundtrack forever (and it is actually, thankfully, being released sooner than you think.) Especially during the scenes were Eleven uses her powers, the music elevates her abilities even more than the special effects could achieve, and should be shown to film students for years to come.
With other tributes to 80’s films – including use of the score from Pretty in Pink during an intense scene – every moment of Stranger Things has details that needs to be loved and appreciated. Thankfully, many people have come to create lists and videos detailing all of the easter eggs, which, after you watch the show, you should check out to see if you’ve missed any. I hope to make my own more spoiler filled archive of sorts in the future, but I’ll give the show at least a month (and a re-watch for my own enjoyment) until the appropriate times arrives.
Now the question remains, what will happen for Season 2? Well, the future might have in store a lot for the residents of Dayton, Indiana. But whichever direction the Duffer Brothers and Netflix take, I will absolutely be along for the ride. It is rare when a show like this, that is made with this amount of love and respect for the movies/era it is paying tribute to comes around, and you can’t ever seem to forget it.
Stranger Things Season 1 is currently on Netflix.