This is the show everyone was talking about this summer, so unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you don’t really need my endorsement to check it out, but here it is all the same:
If you haven’t checked out this spectacular show yet, or if it’s not at least on your watchlist, do yourself a favor and stream/download it now. If you grew up in the 80’s, enjoyed Stephen King novels and can appreciate a 94% Rotten Tomatoes and 9.2 IMDb rating, then you really have no excuse.
Stranger Things really is the perfect example of how a creator (or, in this case, two of them – brothers, in fact) can come up with a masterpiece, without letting the fact that they’re on a limited budget affect the quality of the show. And in today’s tv landscape, with so many outrageously expensive productions, this really is saying something.
Is it the most original idea ever brought to the small screen? Yes and no. Once you begin watching, the ‘no’ argument is self-explanatory: it’s the Goonies and E.T. meets It and Carrie with a bit of Stand By Me thrown in for good measure. Add to that a few dozen more 80’s references and you’ve got a captivating show on your hands.
But despite the plentiful 80’s callbacks and the easily identifiable influences from movies of the era, it still manages to feel fresh and unique, and for good reason: instead of resembling a copycat version on your favorite scary movies, it pays homage to them. It does so with a sense of respect that is refreshing, even as you watch and can readily point out every single detail or memory it immediately brings back.
So it all comes down to perspective: if you go in ready to dismiss it as a cheap effort to evoke nostalgia, then have at it – it offers plenty of ammunition. To me, it feels more like the amalgamation of everything great about the movies I enjoyed as a kid. In much the same way as Tarantino re-imagines genres and gives them his own unique, artfully polished twist, Stranger Things brings the (cherished) 80’s vibe into the 21st century for all to enjoy – those who were alive to experience it the first time around, and those 20somethings for whom the 80’s seem akin to ancient history.
Obviously feeding on the viewers’ nostalgia isn’t enough to propel the show into this year’s tv elite, but that’s hardly all Stranger Things accomplishes. The story is solid, the characters have depth, the performances are stunning.
Okay, so maybe Winona Ryder is a bit over the top as the chain-smoking, freaked-out mother having a meltdown over her missing son, but I have a soft spot for her, not least because of the 80’s cult favorite Beetlejuice, the movie that introduced me to the beautiful girl who was a couple of decades away from the shoplifting shenanigans that temporarily halted her career (and boy, do I wish this show propels her back into the A list again!).
David Harbour, who plays sheriff Jim Hopper, was such a lovable addition to the cast of my beloved (and short-lived) Newsroom, that it took me a few minutes to come to grips with him being anything other than the wholesome family man with the amazing work ethic. A few minutes was all it took: his understated performance was brilliant and perfectly portrayed his character’s arc from jaded, half-drunk law enforcement guy to unlikely hero.
And let’s talk about Millie Bobby Brown for a second. After the brilliance that was Bella Ramsey’s performance as Lady Lyanna Mormont in GoT, this was the second time this year I had to exclaim “someone give this kid an Emmy already!”. She only speaks a few lines of dialogue in the entire 10-episode run, but is so jaw-droppingly captivating you’ll have no choice but to adore her. Her eyes alone deserve an award for this performance, and I really hope this kid goes very, very far.
The rest of the cast is equally talented, and it always makes me smile when kid actors can give such amazing performances. I won’t go into details about the plot because I don’t want to spoil this for anyone; suffice to say, if Netflix does renew it for a second season, I’ll be counting down the months until it comes out.