Stranger Things - Season 1
Netflix has been churning out content for awhile now in order to keep their number one spot on the list of “cable cutting” services and to stay ahead of the competition. In doing so, Netflix has started letting the quality slip in favor of quantity (Hemlock Grove, Flaked, Sense8). When the trailer for Stranger Things dropped on YouTube about a month ago, it looked promising, but I kept my expectations in check. Jump to Saturday, I had finished the 8 episode season in 28 hours within learning it had gone up. I had learned it went live through my YouTube subscription feed when an episode discussion was uploaded, and became immediately worried as it wasn’t in the Spotlight section heading the Netflix UI.
Stranger Things is a horror mystery about the disappearance of a young boy. After a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with a group of friends, Will (Noah Schnapp) is riding his bike home at night when a mysterious figure runs him off the road. The figure stalks him all the way home. Will initially tries to hide, but we learn this thing maybe more sinister than imagined as it enters his home. As a last-ditch effort, Will runs out to the shed, arms himself with the family rifle, and anxiously waits for the thing to come through the door. Then Will disappears. We follow Will’s friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard) Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), mother Joyce (Winona Ryder), and a disgruntled sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) the rest of the season.
As the story unfolds, we meet a little girl who manages to escape a testing facility where she underwent a series of experiment. She meets up with Mike, Lucas, and Dustin, and they learn that she may have some insight into Will’s disappearance along with her strange abilities. Meanwhile, Joyce is frantically doing everything in her power to find her son. As weird things start to happen around her house, she begins to think Will is trying to contact her and insists to Hopper that this is something more than a simple disappearance.
A great way to describe this show is as a better version of J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 or a cross between The Goonies and The X Files. The majority of your time is spent with the kids trying to understand the paranormal, and Hopper’s arc mainly follows the investigation leading to the government-run facility and a web of conspiracies. Given the focus on the children, it would have been painful if the kids couldn’t act, but they’re all pretty decent. For the most part and especially when it matters, they’re better than most, but someone who is definitely bringing her A game is Winona Ryder. It’s disappointing that she doesn’t get more screentime because not only does she play her role well, her arc is the best of all those mentioned. I 100% believed her as a distraught mother trying to cope with her worst nightmare, trying to make sense of electrical phenomena and mysterious phone calls of what sounds like Will breathing.
Every “twist” is predictable, and at times cliche. It's hard to get into it without spoiling anything, but we can look at early revealed backstory. For example: why is Hopper initially a somewhat unlikable person? Maybe he had a bad experience on duty. Maybe he had a kid at one point and now he doesn’t. Since we have a missing kid in the show, let's keep it relatable and go with “he lost a kid.” Heck, we can add that he was an alcoholic. As it turns out, that is actually Hopper’s backstory, but the saving grace is mostly what they do with it. It's a compelling and entertaining show, which is what truly matters. It also helps that the show takes place in the ’80s and is very much in that style: the fashion, architecture, the slight letterboxing, and even a neon title sequence with some film noise give the show a nice retro feel, like It Follows shooting for ’80s nostalgia instead of timelessness.
If you’re looking for an enjoyable weekend binge, this is it. The 8 episodes melt away in the heat of the moment. Getting endorsements from Guillermo Del Torro and Stephen King should also tell you about the quality. It's probably going to be the talk of the next week or two, but I doubt it will have the long-lasting impact of other Netflix shows like Making A Murderer, House Of Cards or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
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