Just about everything in film or television is trying to capture some sort of nostalgia that viewers have. Stranger Things may actually be the first series to manage to capture the feeling of those ’80s shows and movies, without actually becoming an effort that works strictly on nostalgia.
The series, which is now streaming on Netflix, begins with the abduction of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), a young boy who had just left his friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) after an evening of playing Dungeons and Dragons. Will wasn’t kidnapped by any person though. It was as if a strange force or entity simply plucked him for existence. The next day, his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) and brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) are frantic to find him, but the local police chief, Jim Hopper (David Harbour) spends more time drinking his sorrows away than actually working.
While the search begins for Will, his friends decide they need to do something to find him, so they head out to the woods where it’s believed he went missing. Instead of finding Will, they find a confused girl named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) who barely speaks and is dressed in a hospital gown. They don’t know where she came from, but they figure it must have something to do with Will disappearing. What they don’t realize is just how right they are, and the man who had been holding Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) will stop at nothing to get her back.
An 8 episode series was certainly the way to go with Stranger Things, especially considering the size of the cast. Will and his friends only make up about a third of the cast, which follows not only three groups of people, but three age groups as well. Will and his friends cover the grade school group. They’re the darker version of The Goonies really. Will’s brother Jonathan is joined by Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and her new boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery) as the teen group. Joyce, Sheriff Hopper and Dr. Brenner cover the adults. These separate groups interact through the series, and most of them are all searching for the same thing, an answer to what happened to Will, but they each have their own way of doing things.
Since there is so much of an echo of the kinds of films of the ’80s, and most of us who grew up during that time are now slightly older adults (lets not reveal our actual ages!), we get to experience each different group in a unique way. We can understand the friendship of the younger kids and their feelings as being slightly on the outside of the ‘cool’ group. The world of the teen characters will also be familiar, looking at some of the confusion of love and the suspicion of people’s true feelings. The adults take us through the struggle of adult life and trying to provide for, and keep your family safe. It’s a trip through many of the milestones of our lives, all condensed into one epic and dark series.
It all feels quite familiar, bringing up memories of the kinds of films we watched during our youth, even setting the series in the ’80s to kind of accentuate that feeling. There are also moments where you’ll be reminded of films like Silent Hill or Under the Skin. Stranger Things may be influenced by the ’80s, but it also manages to bring in more recent elements as well. It’s why the nostalgic feelings can be high, but don’t become the sole focus of the series. This feels like the creation of people who loved those older films, but know how to create something entirely new as well.
The performances are strong across the board, from the youngest members to the oldest. Even better, they feel like real people. Nobody is impossibly beautiful, completely pure, or unbelievably cool. The characters all have their own flaws, as well as things they excel at. Quite simply, these are realistic characters that you don’t often get in films or television shows. The roughly 8 hours of running time the show gets (episodes can come close to 60 minutes, but can also be as short as just over 40 minutes), certainly adds to the levels that we can explore their lives.
If there’s one problem to be picky about, it’s the way in which love fits into the story. Some characters find themselves attracted to each other, but in the middle of the very dark and disturbing story, it always feels like something that nobody would really be thinking about. Would people really be falling in love when they’re dealing with missing friends and relatives, and eventually a very frightening secret? It’s never something that sticks out terribly, but it’s also something that can seem a little odd at moments.
The mystery of Stranger Things is what will truly draw viewers in. What happened to Will is slowly revealed over the course of the 8 episodes, becoming more unbelievable as it goes. What’s so great about it is that it’s not what you would expect. The idea of a shadowy government conspiracy looms over the entire thing, but it doesn’t connect in the way you may think. It’s one of the highlights of the series. Someone may be involved in what happened to Will, but the way they become involved is never a direct path. Events unfold out of other events, binding them together, but never showing up because of something someone was specifically trying to do. Saying anything else might spoil things, but you can go in knowing that the series will definitely surprise you, right up to the final shots.
Is Stranger Things Worth Watching?
Without a doubt, this is one of the best shows available. Very realistic characters, events that unfold naturally in response to one another, and twists that you will never see coming. It’s dark, mysterious, moving, and occasionally shocking. You can try to stretch it out, but you’ll have a hard time keeping yourself from just watching the entire 8 episodes in a row. Clear your schedule and sit down to Stranger Things.