Tuesday, August 23, 2016
TV Tuesday: Stranger Things
Before I get into the details of plot and character, you should know that one of the most enticing things about Stranger Things is that it takes the best, most beloved 80's movies, puts them in a blender, and spits out an original, compelling TV show. One of my favorite podcasts, Pop Culture Happy Hour, described it like "taking a Stephen King book starring kids and having Steven Spielberg produce the movie," and that is a pretty apt description (the link will take you directly to their Stranger Things episode, which I highly recommend). The three of us spotted references, similarities, and homages to ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Stand by Me, and The Goonies, just for starters.
The set-up goes like this: it's 1983 in suburban Indiana, and four nerdy pre-pubescent best friends ride their bikes, sleep over at each other's houses, and obsessively play Dungeons & Dragons in one boy's basement for hours. Mike is the boy with the afore-mentioned basement rec room (complete with shag carpeting), Lucas is his best friend who lives next door as part of the only black family in town, Dustin is an adorable chubby-cheeked boy with a medical condition that means he is still missing baby teeth (for which he gets teased relentlessly by the bullies at school), and Will completes the foursome. In the first episode, Will goes missing while riding his bike home one night.
Will's mother, played by Winona Rider (another wink to the 80's), is frantic. She is raising Will and his teen brother, Jonathan, on her own. Police Chief Jim Hopper, played by David Harbour, is an old friend and immediately begins a search for Will, but the boys set off on their own investigation. Meanwhile, a mysterious girl of about the same age, with a shaved head and wearing a hospital gown, shows up suddenly in a local diner after dark, having escaped from a super-creepy secret government facility in town (under the guise of the Department of Energy). The girl, known as El, doesn't talk much, but the boys find her in the woods and keep her safe.
That is all in the first episode, and I won't say more because this is a show that relies on unfolding secrets and mysteries. Some very strange things are going on in this town, and they are going to get worse before they get better. There are three main plotlines: the adults looking for Will, the kids doing their own investigation and search, and eventually, Jonathan and Mike's teen sister also getting involved (plus flashbacks to what is going on at the secret facility). Over the course of 8 episodes, some questions are answered and some mysteries solved, but others remain unclear, paving the way for a suspenseful second season.
Have I mentioned that we all LOVE this show? It is just so addictingly good in so many ways. The tone and feel will remind you of your favorite 80's movies, even though the plot is unique. The kids are all great actors, especially the mysterious El, played by Millie Bobby Brown. Winona Rider and David Harbour are excellent in the main adult roles. The music, pop culture references, and settings all lovingly recreate the 80's. Too young to remember the 80's movies I mentioned? You'll still love this show. Fortunately, we gave our son a solid education in the "modern classics" of the 80's! And if you've enjoyed any of Stephen King's novels that feature kids (his best writing, in my opinion), like IT or The Body (the novella on which the movie Stand By Me was based - not horror), then you will also feel right at home.
Stranger Things takes the best of the movies and stories of the 80's and recreates them for a modern audience, with a nice sense of nostalgia. It's a very suspenseful, action-packed mystery/sci fi combination that will have you saying at the end of each episode (like we did), "We have to watch the next one!"
Stranger Things is a Netflix Original program, so it is available only on the streaming service.