Nearly a month ago, I shared my excitement for the nostalgic, sci-fi-horror and Netflix original television series, Stranger Things, here, which I described “as if Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, and John Carpenter had a baby and this show was the result.” The entire season, eight, hour-long episodes, finally dropped Friday, July 15th, and I spent the entire weekend binge-watching the series. Despite my legitimate enthusiasm, the show didn’t disappoint, however, it’s not without its flaws. Rest assured this is a spoiler-free review of Stranger Things, discussing what worked, and what may still need to be developed in future episodes.
I’m a sucker for nostalgia. Apparently, I’m not alone. The directors of Stranger Things, the twin brother duo, known simply as the Duffer Brothers, share a similar affinity for the films of my generation, the 1980’s. That era of filmmaking, particularly in the genres of sci-fi, horror and action, was launched by the out-of-this-world success of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Because of this, so many subsequent films of the decade (and beyond) tried to capture its cinematic formula to varying degrees. Stranger Things is the most recent example of this. The Duffer Brothers paid great attention, and were successful in capturing the look and feel of the 1980’s using many of the key elements of classic 80’s films. Some of those standards used in Stranger Things include, but are not limited to: Troubled, misunderstood, bullied kids, but resourceful mind you, from troubled homes, possibly single-parent households, who are surrounded by deeply flawed adult archetypes with traumatic pasts themselves, living in every day, boring suburbia, aka Anytown, U.S.A. where nothing ever happens, until something BIG happens which tests their values and friendships in their formative years. If you weren’t hooked from the trailer, you will be after the jarring moments of the principal episode. The writers and directors accomplished what they set out to do: create something new and exciting while at the same time serve an homage to the beloved decade. They are transparent in that they drew inspiration from the storylines of Stephen King, the wonderment of a Spielberg type film, along with the monstrous horrors captured in so many memorable Carpenter films. In fact, “the show’s writers all watched (or re-watched) a large list of films including: E.T., The Goonies, The Thing, and A Nightmare on Elm Street” before developing the series.
Despite the successful effort, some audiences may find that Stranger Things seems all too familiar. While I believe following a successful blueprint is clearly one of the show’s greatest strengths, it can also be seen as its biggest weakness. If the mysterious show is to blossom, it will need to carve out its existence in a sea of other binge-worthy programming. If it doesn’t it could suffer the same fate as other exciting shows which burned out too quickly, such as the cult-classic, Twin Peaks, which only lasted two seasons. Writers will need to spend more time on answering lingering problems with some of its characters and story arcs, as well as its pacing. What good is a puzzle if it cannot ever be solved?
At the end of the day, after watching Stranger Things, I’m left with more questions than answers. Regardless, one thing is for certain: I want more.