Netflix really broadsided me this time. When they premiered Stranger Things, an eight episode series about a bunch of kids fighting an unknown evil in 1983, it sounded like a hodge-podge of Stephen King’s It, and Super-8, the coming of age monster movie directed by JJ Abrams that came out a few years back, along with a good dose of Steven Spielberg (the early years) thrown in. I have to admit to being suspicious of films and TV shows that reek of nostalgia, because they usually depend too much on the nostalgia of a particular time to charm their viewers, instead of offering a decent story.
But that’s not the case with Stranger Things, oh no. I immediately wound up getting pulled into its gripping tale right from the get-go. After spending the day playing Dungeons & Dragons with his friends, young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) seemingly vanishes from the face of the earth, never returning home that night. His older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and single mother Joyce (Winona Ryder, who’s fantastic here) are beside themselves as they try to track down where Will was last seen. When all else fails, Joyce goes to the local police, led by Jim Hopper (the superb David Harbour).
Right off the bat, we’re shown that Will’s abduction has an otherworldly explanation, but while this is revealed right away, the actual cause–the who and what and why–is only slowly revealed over the course of the eight episodes. The Duffer Brothers (Wayward Pines), the creators and executive producers behind the series, have ingeniously created that rare TV show where you are truly caught up in the story because you feel sympathetic for the well-fleshed out characters, while also getting hooked on the mystery. And perhaps the biggest mystery here is who is the strange little girl with the shaven hair whose name is Eleven (played by young Millie Bobby Brown in a great and affecting performance).
The 1980s is used as a setting for the strong story, and there are many influences from that decade here, such as John Carpenter’s The Thing, Spielberg’s E.T., as well as the aforementioned Stephen King. But the series manages to juggle all of these science fiction and horror elements without getting overwhelmed by them–mainly by telling its own story in a supremely satisfying way. And it delivers a wonderful message, one that needs to be heard even now in the twenty first century: we can achieve the impossible only if we all pull together and face our fears. You see what I mean about being broadsided? Here I was expecting a cheesy little horror show, and instead I got a truly wondrous, heartfelt adventure that made me want to re-watch it the moment it was over. Good show, Duffer Brothers, and bring on season two. –SF