Stranger Things get stranger in Netflix’s ‘80s sci-fi twist
By now, Stranger Things is old news. But that’s not going to stop me from writing 500-plus words about why you should spend this weekend binge-watching Netflix’s eight-episode homage to 1980s science fiction. Overdue homework aside, you won’t regret those hours in front of the TV (or the nails you’ll stress-bite off in the process).
Unless you’re disconnected from the Internet, you’ve probably heard of Stranger Things. With its band of bike-riding misfits, faceless monster and enigmatic alien/science experiment protagonist, the series is hard to ignore. But fantastical touches aside, Stranger Things is a show with a warts-and-all authenticity provided by its stellar young cast and cinematic ‘80s charm.
With a flyover opening scene to rival that of E.T.’s (more on that later), the story takes place in the small town of Hawkins, Ind., where a group of friends are engaged in an intense game of Dungeons and Dragons. A roll of the dice frees the game’s monster, the Demogorgon, seemingly setting in motion a series of mysterious events that shake the sleepy town to its core.
Without revealing too much in a show riddled with game-changing spoilers, the plot centers around the disappearance of 12 year-old Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). Armed with walkie-talkies and flashlights, Will’s friends Mike, Dustin and Lucas set out to find their missing comrade.
Along the way they encounter Eleven or El, a skinny girl with a buzz cut who looks like she just escaped from a mental institution. El, played by British actress Millie Bobby Brown, adds clarity to the group’s quest—for all the ambiguity surrounding her own backstory, she has an idea of where to find Will, and it’s not at the bottom of the lake.
But where Stranger Things shines is in its cast, a mismatched group as genuine as the characters they play. With the exception of ‘80s and ‘90s icons Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine, the young actors and actresses of Strangers Things were all relative unknowns, that is until their show became a national obsession.
That disconnect from Hollywood adds freshness to a series that could become bogged down in nostalgia given a more seasoned cast. Ryder’s performance as Will’s frantic mother, Joyce, a woman teetering on the edge of sanity after her son goes missing, grounds the show—allowing viewers to sympathize with her plight as events spin further and further into the land of the unbelievable.
That said, the show’s nod to all things ‘80s can’t go unnoticed. From the synthesizer soundtrack and repeated playing of The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” to the at times overt references to the decade’s favorite movies and fixation on the suburban nuclear family, Stranger Things can sometimes feel like a pulled-together mashup of a millennial’s version of the era of Reagan and Jaws.
But somehow the series toes the line between caricature and period piece, coloring this story of a missing boy and overreaching science experiment and making it both believable, and relatable.
Again, we have the characters to thank for that. We’re able to empathize with the three preteen physics geeks biking around the woods in vain searching for their missing friend, feel a mother’s desperation as she attempts to communicate with her son when others see her only as crazy and smile as otherworldly Eleven looks in the mirror after donning a blonde wig and thinks she’s pretty for the first time in her life.
This is a show that doesn’t skimp when it comes to emotion. Each character, from hard-drinking cop Hopper to stereotypical high school bigshot Steve, gets his or her time in the spotlight (well, all except Barb, but you’ll find out about her later). The trope “friends don’t lie” may be an over-used one, but Stranger Things and its young heroes are better for it—banding together in times of crises, not only to overcome obstacles but also to strengthen frienships.
Minus all the strange occurrences, E.T. flashbacks and bad hair, Stranger Things would still be a show with heart. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a wild ride (not everything is a sufficient substitute for a Demogorgon), but it’s the authentic bond between the characters that makes this a show worth watching.
Now get bingeing.