I’d been hearing about Netflix’s new series for a minute, and finally decided to check it out. The description that hooked me? It’s like Stephen King and Steven Spielberg had a baby.
And gosh darned if that ain’t about right.
Stranger Things has the feel of E.T. and/or Goonies, but with a creepy, macabre twist. It’s got misfit kids on bikes, it’s got Dungeons and Dragons, it’s got Winona Ryder, it’s got a quiet, comfy small town…and a it’s got a girl with mental powers. And sinister government agents. And some creature that eats kids.
So many reviews have already highlighted the nostalgia of everything from the 80s. So I won’t get into the nonstop homages to that era, which included about everything except for the Rubix Cube. Which is strange.
I enjoyed the fact that the odes never became a distraction for the story itself. This is a much better adaptation of that era’s ‘feel’ than J.J. Abram’s Super 8, which tried for a similar concept with decidedly more mixed results.
The story is solid, and I enjoyed that it didn’t try to explain everything as it went. The writers trusted the viewers to enjoy the ride and fill in the blanks as they watched, which is becoming a rarity in consistently dumbed-down entertainment. Especially in cinema blockbusters, which are currently manufactured as Cliff Notes of actual stories instead of being stories themselves. There is a larger mythology beyond what we get to see in Stranger Things, but we don’t get much of a peek behind the curtain. Which is fantastic, actually.
Because the full reveal of the creepy, stalking creature sucked. Seriously, total letdown.
But that’s my only riff on the series, which features solid acting from its cast. The young lady who portrays Eleven, or El, as they call her, steals the show, emoting her character subtly to tremendous effect. The rest of cast are terrific as well. Winona Ryder does a great job playing a woman on the constant edge of a complete breakdown, and I thought David Harbour gave an understated performance as the small town Sheriff struggling with past demons. The kids do their kid thing, and Matthew Modine provides unexpected menace as the lead government spook.
Netflix and shows like Stranger Things are continuing to prove the case that as Hollywood continues to pump billions into making ‘blockbusters’ aimed at the lowest common IQ levels, television is where viewers go to to find real, satisfying entertainment. Stranger Things provided more to digest than any film I’ve seen this summer, and the fact that it’s a series is only part of the reason why. The other part is the clear indication that the show’s writers and creators understand and care for their craft, and had the creative freedom to pursue it.
That’s something Hollywood should pay attention to.
When Bard Constantine isn’t consumed by pop culture, he writes gritty futures and far-flung fantasy. See more at bardwritesbooks.com