I’d been meaning to mention Stranger Things to Jim as something we should check out for a week or so. I think I saw Stephen King raving about how good it was on Twitter or something. Then, Tuesday night, Jim fires it up for us.
Stranger Things is a Netflix Original, so the whole eight-episode first season is available right now to watch all at once. And you’re definitely going to want to block out an eight hour stretch for this show, because it is brilliant, and you won’t want to look away.
Most reviews are raving about the show’s 1980′s setting, and how it revitalizes the 80′s and blahblahblah, but I’m here to tell you they’re wrong. This show isn’t set in the 80′s, it’s set in Stephen King’s mind. This show isn’t just an homage, it’s a long, graphic, passionate love letter to early Stephen King horror novels, from the logo to the settings to the characters, all the way to the plot.
Stranger Things is utterly amazing.
The show concerns the goings on of a trio of young boys, a mysterious little girl named Eleven, a handful of teenagers, and two frazzled, lifeworn adults, all trying to dig their way through an ugly horror mystery without dying or going insane.
The plotting is tight, and the story proceeds neatly, logically and relentlessly from point A to point Z with no bullshit in between. It builds slowly and steadily, from dread to dread, each step ratcheting the tension ever higher.
Each character is an immediately recognizable stereotype who has been skillfully humanized and built into a fully realized person, easy to like, hate, or empathize with. In clumsier hands this might have made these characters seem like cardboard cutouts, but here they feel familiar, like people you already know and care about.
Between the excellent acting and writing, these characters become more than their stereotypes. I want to babysit for the D&D science nerd boys. Mike seems like a great kid, and I want to smack his idiot, clueless mother. I want to adopt Dustin, give him a big plate of cookies, and have him tell me D&D stories all day. These kids are awesome.
The teens, our second group of protagonists, are every kid I went to school with. I know these teens. I hung around with some of them. In another life, they were all in the Breakfast Club one Saturday morning. They’re infuriating, because they act like every stupid teen you ever knew, and they make you proud, because they act like every smart teen you ever met.
And our two adult protagonists, played by Winona Ryder and David Harbour (you might know him as Elliot Hirsch from The Newsroom) could have starred in almost any pre-car accident Stephen King novel. Ryder’s performance, in particular, was outstanding.
Stranger Things dispenses with the garbage that other TV shows feel compelled to clutter their stories up with. There are no idiot balls (TV Tropes Warning) for characters to pass around. Characters are aware of what they’re facing and proceed logically from clue to clue. Each of the three groups of protagonists arrive at the same conclusion from a different direction, with their own motivations for following the mystery.
Everything is clean and tidy and terrifying. This story is put together so well it kind of makes me mad at everything else I watch.
Look, don’t worry about the particulars. Just ditch whatever plans you had made for this weekend and settle down for Stranger Things. Then join the rest of us in eagerly anticipating season two.
Resources, Reviews & Interviews
- Stranger Things at Wikipedia
- Stranger Things on IMDB
- Stranger Things on Netflix
- Variety: ‘Stranger Things’ Finale: Duffer Brothers Talk Cliffhangers, Death and Season 2
- io9: Netflix’s 1980s Scifi Throwback Stranger Things Is Must-(Binge-)Watch TV
- Rolling Stone: ‘Stranger Things’: How Netflix’s Retro Hit Resurrects the Eighties
- Vox: Stranger Things, Netflix’s scary new drama, is only made stronger by its many flaws
- Entertainment Weekly: Stranger Things episode 7: The Duffer Brothers on the ‘most fun’ episode of the season