We take a look at Netflix’s latest drama – the terrific 80s throwback Stranger Things…
2016 is not a bad year for 1980s nostalgia. There are movie reboots of old favourites like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters. Steven Spielberg returned to the family-friendly market with The BFG. However, the best of these is absolutely Stranger Things – a glorious celebration of the science fiction of the era that also manages to stand on its own.
In the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, 12 year old Will Byers vanishes. While Sheriff Hopper thinks it is easily explained, his mother Joyce and his best friends Mike, Dustin and Lucas are convinced that something strange is going on. When a girl with special powers turns up, they realise a dark otherworldly force is at work in their town…
As has been talked about a lot, Stranger Things wears its inspirations on its sleeve as it is basically an ode to genre movies and books of the time – in particular, the influence of Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter can be keenly felt. It never feels like showrunners the Duffer Brothers are ripping those creators off, though, rather that they are tipping their hat to the classics. Due to the familiarity of the world the series operates in, you might find yourself second-guessing the plot but that’s all part of the throwback fun. Just watch the beautifully old-fashioned opening credits. In fact, the whole score for the show from Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein is incredible.
There is a lot more to Stranger Things than just wallowing in fuzzy nostalgia, however. The show is perfectly formed at a tight eight episodes – previous Netflix shows (Daredevil season two springs to mind) have felt somewhat stretched out at 13 parts but this never does. And kudos to the Duffers for pitching the tone completely right. You know how those 80s classics – think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – contained a lot of horror but the overall tone meant that it was suitable for all ages? Stranger Things understands that completely. The one big fault is probably the nebulous nature of the threat – however that’s a necessary consequence of a show with such a in-depth mythology that it wants to eke out over time.
The series also sports a terrific bunch of characters. Though they all begin as archetypes – the geeky kids, the jaded cop, the rebelling teenager – they come into their own as things progress. A big part of this is thanks to the all round spot-on performances – seriously, there is not a weak link in the cast. Of particular note are Winona Ryder, who is great as grief-stricken mother Joyce, Finn Wolfhard as arguably the main character Mike and, most of all, Millie Bobby Brown as the enigmatic Eleven. To play such a fractured, troubled character is no easy feat for such a young actress but Brown steals the show. She has definitely got a big future ahead of her.
With a second season already confirmed, the pressure is on to deliver the same high quality again next time around. It would seem unlikely given how much this debut run fired on all cylinders but, hey, stranger things have happened.