Having begun my career as a lifelong geek quite early, I have learned that if anyone but my closest friends tell me I’m going to love this (book, movie, game, music), I’m probably not going to.
Granted, my adult tastes have widened a bit, but to this day if you ask me to choose between watching a current episode of Grey’s Anatomy or How I Met Your Mother versus MST3K or Twilight Zone, the question is barely valid. This is why the morning coffee-machine-conversations at my “day job” never involve topics to which I pay much attention.
That is until last week, when I overheard a raving endorsement for the Netflix series Stranger Things.
As stated, I would normally have ignored what I heard were it not for the phrase, “…think of it as Goonies, meets Stand by Me, meet It.”
Okay, the speaker knows these three movies well enough to wrap them into a comparison? About one Netflix series?
Stranger Things merited a bit of investigating.
First I checked my standard sources, where I learned the series is eight episodes and launched in mid-July. None of the core characters is over the age of 14, but one of the main adult characters is played by Winona Ryder (who gets top billing). The creators are Matt and Ross Duffer (a.k.a.”The Duffer Brothers”) who appear to have always been a writing team for the entire course of their nine year careers, and whose only other major writing accomplishment is the M. Night Shyamalan-directed Fox series Wayward Pines.
Unable to draw any conclusions from this — other than a raised eyebrow over a series giving Winona Ryder top billing — I decided to devote a few hours to the first three episodes. I mean, if we’ve learned anything from the many episodic storylines available for our binge-watching pleasure, it’s that you have to stick with any new offering at least until episode three.
My conclusion? Mind…blown…
For fear of giving away even the smallest spoiler (and there are so many twists it would be easy to do), I’ll stick with a few general facts and the synopsis provided by the network:
In a small town where everyone knows everyone, a peculiar incident starts a chain of events that leads to the disappearance of a child – which begins to tear at the fabric of an otherwise peaceful community. Dark government agencies and seemingly malevolent supernatural forces converge on the town, while a few locals begin to understand that there’s more going on than meets the eye.
Though Stranger Things is far more than a sum of its references, for me the references are a huge part of the fun. For instance, one of the first scenes in episode one is the nerdiest imaginable: four boys, ages 11 or 12, sitting around a table playing Dungeons & Dragons. In fact so far as I’ve watched, D&D has popped up quite a lot as a way for the main characters to understand and navigate the events happening to them.
Then there’s the 80’s soundtrack which is not only perfectly paired with the action, but ignites mini-detonations of nostalgia with every song. And the whole look and feel of the series calls to mind 80’s movies like, well, Stand by Me, Goonies and It.
Some of the credit for the show’s success is being given to casting director Carmen Cuba, who managed to not just find great actors, but great child actors (as opposed to adults trying to look like children). The kids are incredible, especially Millie Bobby Brown who was herself 11 years old when she shaved her head to play the character “Eleven.” She has the least amount of dialog but the incredible emotional ability to suck you right in. And to be fair, Winona Ryder is darn good as well, playing the harried, dysfunctional single-mother of one of the kids.
Is Stranger Things sci-fi or horror? It’s both, in the way that The X-Files were both, and it was embraced so quickly by Netflix’s customers that a season two is already confirmed.
But I have resisted reading any more about it beyond this, as it appears I am the only person who has not binged all eight, season-one episodes in one sitting. I am parsing out the remaining five since it will be a full year before there are more.
This also means I must now avoid the kitchenette at my day job and wear headphones at the gym for a whole different reason. Everyone is talking about this new series, and for once I understand why.
Have you checked out Stranger Things? Don’t leave any spoilers but do leave your opinion of the show in a comment below or via firstname.lastname@example.org.