Netflix has been in the business of creating original content for some time. Many of their more popular offerings have been heralded with strong promotional campaigns and plenty of online buzz. Orange Is the New Black, Daredevil, and House of Cards all received massive advertising pushes to create awareness and interest. And they all have their fans, their followers, and their critical successes as their reward.
And then there is Stranger Things. This quirky little show about a small town in Hawkins, Indiana seemingly appeared fully-formed overnight. There was no buzz. There was no publicity push. There were no big names in the cast unless you count Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine as big names in 2017. (No one does.) But if you watched the trailer, chances are, that was all it took. This felt special. The music, the setting, the kids. It had it all. The trailer screamed 80’s nostalgia of the highest order and while Season One provided that, it gave viewers so much more. Stranger Things goes beyond fan-service or winking at those of us that formed much of our television and film sensibilities watching E.T. and The Goonies. Stranger Things is built on those bones but it effortlessly carves out its own identity, its own style, and its own iconography.
We are huge fans of Stranger Things, that much goes without saying. In celebration of Season One and anticipation of Season Two, which is waiting for us on Netflix right now, here are a few musings about the show. Enjoy!
For lack of a better cliché, Stranger Things really hits home to me, gets me right in that nostalgic bone. Season One takes place in 1983. At that time in history, I was ten years old. I actually knew people just like all of the kids (everyone from high school down except for Eleven) in the show. My best friend in 1983 was even named Dustin. (He was the coolest because his family actually owned a movie camera. A movie camera!) Stranger Things epitomizes that era better than any show or movie I have ever seen that wasn’t actually made in the early 80s. I’m not talking about movies of the time that may have influenced it or any other interesting pop culture references (although these things are very interesting). I feel it fully epitomized the times via the look and mannerisms of the characters involved. Although he’s not even close to being my favorite character on the show, I think Steve Harrington (played to perfection by Joe Keery) most fully embodied the spirit of the early 80s. The smug dork who thinks he’s the coolest thing ever and fools almost everyone else into thinking so too. That cocky smugness. The ridiculously puffy, polished hair. The popular rich kid who seems to have life figured out but was really just an insecure jerk. He may be the best example of the early 80s, but all of the characters embodied the era that I remember so well.
But that is just one of the many reasons I love Stranger Things and can’t wait to watch the second season tonight. How do I love it? Let me count the ways. No, that would take way too long and, really, that would be too much work. I’ll let the next season do the talking for me. Hang on folks; it looks to be another wild ride in the upside-down world with our cast of ST superfriends.
– Benjamin Plunkett
When you’re five years old (as I was in 1983) and raised in a secure environment, the world is perfect. You’re old enough to have memories of the most innocent time in your life. For me it was watching ET with my family, listening to Toto on the way to school, getting He-Man men for Christmas and wrestling with the other Kindergartners at Salem School. Stranger Things went to great detail to bring that world kind of world to life. Everything from rotary phones to the boys’ bed sheets are things I recognize. And they take me back to a time when the world wasn’t complicated or harsh.
But it is the dark aspects of Stranger Things that cause me to love it. I’m a sucker for a piece-by-piece unraveling of a mystery. Even more than the sci-fi aspects, I am drawn in by Hopper (and to a lesser extent Will’s best friends) realizing that there is more to Will’s missing than meets the eye and doing whatever it takes to solve it. Even getting into fisticuffs. With Hopper, my favorite character, we get a little Sherlock and a lot of Chuck Norris.
And probably more than anything it’s just the heart of the story that makes me want to rewatch Season One over and over. Despite the paranormal and otherworldly plot aspects, Stranger Things is primarily about regular people who all face major demons before Will’s disappearance and how tragedy forces them to come together in the most magnificently human way possible. As it often does in real life. My favorite scene is at the end of Episode 3 when they pull “Will” out of the water and both the Wheeler and Byers families have a moment of emotional breakdown, after trying so hard to hold it together. It’s heartwrenching. And then the climactic scene where Hopper and Joyce save Will…I completely stopped breathing for about 60 seconds. Telekinesis, the Demogorgon, the Upside Down..it all fades to the background as we experience an act of true heroism from a man and woman who desperately needed that moment, for entirely different reasons. It’s perfect TV.
– Gowdy Cannon
One of the most common thematic elements in television or film is the broken family dynamic. It’s an easy shorthand to create conflict, character development, and motivation. Too often, it is the weapon of lazy writers who do not want to take the time to try to write more realistic and relatable characters. Give the main character an absentee father and you give yourself pages of angst and dialogue.
There are times, though, when writers use this framework as more than just a magic wand. Stranger Things falls firmly in the latter camp. There are a half dozen examples of parental figures in the show; some good and some bad. The greatness of the show is in the way these relationships are deployed and developed.
The easiest example to label is the Wheeler parents. The dad (Ted) is there but not there. He is present in the lives of his children, in physical terms at least, but is completely uninvolved emotionally. The mom (Sandy) is present and clearly longing for a deeper connection to her children. She works hard throughout Season One to build bridges to her family. It’s refreshing that this more stereotypical parental unit, while not ignored, is surpassed in both screen time and effectiveness by other, less-than-traditional examples. This both highlights the differences while also clearly delineating which examples we should be giving our deeper attention.
The beautiful thing about how Stranger Things presents the different types, is how disconnected from biological familial bonds it all is. Sure, we get the insanely driven and protective mother Joyce Byers. But we also get the gruff, yet clearly guided by love, father figure in Sheriff Hopper. We see the selfish and manipulative false father in Dr. Brenner. Each character sheds a little light on the importance of strong, loving, and nurturing parenting. Taken as a whole, Season One deconstructs, explores, and eventually rebuilds the idea of what it views as a good parent, and it’s no surprise it looks a lot like the very best things about parents we already knew.
– Phill Lytle
As stated in the intro, we are big fans of the show. We are all very excited about watching the second season as soon as humanly possible. Unfortunately, jobs, life, and all sorts of other bothersome things are interfering. We hit a few highlights, things that really made us fall in love with the show, but we didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all that is awesome about Stranger Things, and that is where you come in. Jump on the comment section and tell us why you love the show. Tell us about your favorite parts of Season One. Talk about your favorite characters. The only thing we ask is that you don’t spoil Season Two. That would be a very mouth-breather thing to do.