The Strangely Delightful World of Stranger Things

Like Game of Thrones, everyone was talking about Stranger Things when it came out. How amazing it was. How its story was excellent, and the young actors so talented. And, like Rick and Morty, everyone kept telling me I had to watch it. As a fantasy and science fiction fan, everyone assumed it was right up my alley. But for some reason I find it hard these days to simply sit down and watch a show or even a movie. As if I have something else to do (fun fact: I don’t). Luckily, during a day off my little sister sat down and decided to put on episode one.

By episode three I had basically turned into Thor, smashing tankards on the floor and yelling, “ANOTHER!” After 5 episodes it was 1:30 in the morning, and I had to be at work by 8. When I came home later that day, I demanded we watch the final 3 episodes.

Be careful, spoilers lurk below!


At its core, Stranger Things is about three boys, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas, trying to find their friend, Will Byers, who goes missing in the very first episode. Of course, as the episodes continue, it becomes very clear that there’s a lot wrong in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. From government conspiracies involving a girl with amazing mental powers to a dark creature lurking in the woods, it will take a small-town cop, a determined mother, the outcast, the smart girl, three boys, and one girl named Eleven to rescue Will from a world known as the Upside Down — and the thing that lives there. The Demogorgon.

I feel like anyone with a brain can grasp why Stranger Things is so great. The show does so many things right even as it completely acknowledges that it’s full of tropes, both from ’80s movies (the monster and teen kind), as well as from science fiction. Shady government agencies testing on children? Been there, done that. Monsters snatching people in the night? We’ve seen it. Kids and teens forced to take matters into their own hands because the vast majority of adults think they’re making everything up? Yes, indeed. But none of that matters because it’s all done so well. We already know what we’re getting, and I don’t doubt the Duffer Brothers did all of this 100% on purpose.

The same can be said for the time frame in which the events take place: the ’80s. It’s the perfect backdrop for this style of story. I feel like taking the cell phone out of the equation alone makes a massive difference in how things can and do play out. No one can grab a cell phone when they’re in trouble. Kids had to meet up face to face or with radios that had limited range. People were not constantly connected. Joyce Byers can’t just call her son Will on his cell when he doesn’t come home. When someone goes missing a mass text alert can’t be sent out. Instead, calls have to be made directly from one house to another, one at a time on a landline. In order to find information, Sheriff Hopper can’t just get on his smartphone and Google everything he needs to know. He has to do legwork. Go to the library. Go through the card catalogue and look at microfiche (something I wondered how many kids had to Google after watching those episodes).

But the ’80s also meant the Duffer Brothers could slip in a few references — or maybe homages — to other movies and favorites, such as the Evil Dead poster in Jonathan Byers’s room, the Thing poster in  Mike’s basement, and the state trooper reading Cujo in the morgue. There are other nods to Stephen King as well, such as a clear Stand By Me vibe at several moments in the show with the boys.

Setting aside the, ah, setting, we have the acting. Sometimes with young actors you can tell they’re still working on getting things right. Let’s be honest, we all loved Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, but even in the fourth movie he still had some work to do. These kids are all spot on with what they’re doing. When they’re angry at each other, they yell like kids yell. When they’re upset, they’re upset. Dustin’s exasperation at his friends was perfect. And Mike’s quick kiss with Eleven was 100% young and awkward. Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven does not look like the kind of girl you mess with when she’s mad. And when we’re not talking about the amazing job done by the kids, there’s Winona Ryder being the absolutely panic-stricken and end-of-her-rope mom of Will Byers. David Harbour as Sheriff Jim Hopper starts out as typically lazy, bumbling, and drunken, but he quickly becomes the guy you’re cheering for to figure it out and kick some ass.

I really enjoyed that, unlike so many shows these days, Stranger Things didn’t rely upon language (I don’t even think they used the word “fuck”), gore, sex, or excessive character killing to draw in an audience. I think a lot of us have become accustomed to such things in our shows. After the nice owner of the diner was murdered, I freaked out and kept thinking more people were just going to start dropping dead via government-silenced guns. But…they didn’t. And at the end of the show I felt refreshed in that regard. At the end, the bad guys died, some of them in ways that they truly deserved, and the good guys lived. There was a happily ever after (well, except for the bits that we need to get us to season 2), and that was damn nice to see. I straight up clapped when Steve burst back onto the scene to hit the Demogorgon in the face with a nail-spiked bat, and cheered when that same Demogorgon ate Dr. Brenner’s face.

The science-based elements required for the science fiction were a lot of fun as well. Because the boys are trying to figure things out, the audience gets to learn about parallel dimensions, rifts, and dimensional travel right along with them. I find myself with a lot of questions, but not because I don’t understand, but because I have fun fictional things I want to know. How is the Demogorgon able to eat things from this dimension? What else lives in the Upside Down besides the Demogorgon and that really gross worm thing that was down Will’s throat (ugh, that freaks me out just thinking about it)? Other questions I had, I sussed out answers in my head, such as why, when the Demogorgon clawed its way through Joyce’s wall, it left marks, but when she went back they were gone. (My theory? The destroyed wall is a part of the Upside Down, which Joyce could see as it affected her dimension, but once the Demogorgon left through that same hole, Joyce’s was fine, but in the Upside Down, that wall is shredded.) It’s fun to mull over after the episodes finish, if you’re not worried about a long, creepy hand grabbing your ankle from underneath the bed. I won’t lie — I had to do laundry between episodes, and my imagination has always been an active one: I quickly noped my way out of that dark basement once I was done with the next load.

I could go on for a long time about this series. I loved how they used the Christmas lights to indicate movement in the Upside Down, how smart Joyce was to create what amounted to a giant Ouija board in her living room, or how Steve never went full-on stereotypical popular high school douchebag (seriously, that nagged at me for practically the entire series). Could I find something wrong with it? Sure, I probably could, but I don’t want to. What would be the point? I had a great time watching it, and I very much look forward to season two because it looks like some serious shit is going to hit the fan. Just as long as I get what this first season delivered on in terms of place, people, and satisfaction, I’ll be just fine.

Oh, and if you liked the music, might I recommend more of the same?

2 Comments

  • Shara White October 19, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    I think I’m just one of the few who did not like Winona Ryder’s performance. Like, on paper I get it: it’s nice to see what should be a realistic depiction of a mom losing her shit over her child going missing. But something rang false to me, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m used to Hollywood “romanticizing” it and making it “beautiful” or if Winona Ryder was over the top or both of if something about her just wasn’t on my wavelength. I don’t know, except that any time she was nominated for her portrayal I just cringed. Maybe it’s because we never got to see her character in her state of normal before shit hit the fan that I didn’t get to appreciate her character in a state of duress?

    Reply
  • Heidi Ruby Miller October 23, 2017 at 8:08 am

    So excited about the next season of Stranger Things!! Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about it, Nicole.

    Reply

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