“… a show that accomplished it’s goal by transporting it’s audience to the past.”
I usually don’t review television shows because when compared to movies it is almost apples to oranges; it is a completely different beast and because of that there are different considerations that should be taken. But for me to go without reviewing Stranger Things would feel wrong considering why I started this website in the first place; to voice my opinions when there is no one around to hear them. Stranger Things is a show that I can’t stop thinking about. It’s funny to say that so soon (having just started the show last night, and finishing it not an hour ago), but it might be a testament to the show itself. For those who don’t know, Stranger Things is a new Netflix produced television series that follows a small town in 1983. In this small town a boy has mysteriously disappeared, and we get to see the effect this has on his friends, his mother, and people that don’t even know him that well. I can’t say too much about the show because it would be easy to spoil, so rest assured that I will do my best to keep this review spoiler free because Stranger Things has to be experienced, not read about.
Stranger Things, being set in the 1980’s, leans heavily on the works that come out of that time period. Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, and any and all other Steven’s are major influences in the feel of this show. That being said, and what I’m about to say may sound weird, Stranger Things almost felt like a manipulation. I mean this not in a malicious way, I see it more as compliment. See, I love the movies of the 80’s, I love Stephen King, I love everything that this show was referencing so the manipulation comes in when I look back at it. It is almost like this show was tailor made out of everything that I find great about movies; and in a weird sense this feels disingenuous. I understand that this is going to come across as scathing but trust me I mean nothing bad by it. In all honesty Stranger Things is one of the best shows I have seen in a long time, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling almost violated. I imagine it as if Stranger Things is like my version of The Matrix, I know it’s not (I’m not that conceited despite popular opinion) but the feeling is constantly there. In reality Stranger Things just nailed the feel of everything 80’s, and if you are a fan of anything that came out in that decade then chances are you will feel the same as me. Now on to the nitty gritty. Unfortunately Stranger Things wasn’t a flawless television show. For one, some of the references that I talked about were straight up ripped from movies of the past. Like I said, if you have seen any older movies its not too difficult for you to see where the show is headed after a couple of episodes. Of course nothing is original anymore, so I’m not calling out Stranger Things, I just wish that some sequences (and ideas) were a little more original. And I don’t understand how the show can tug on your nostalgia strings, but not have practical effects. I understand that it would cost money, but the show lost all of it’s charm whenever I saw something that looked like it belonged on the scifi channel. Steven Spielberg has a famous quote stating that because of the problems that occurred with the shark on Jaws, he became more like Alfred Hitchcock in his filmmaking. This essentially means that he found ways to build tension without showing the shark every second of the movie. And for Stranger Things to rely so heavily on Spielberg, it’s too bad that they didn’t pick up on one of his most important lessons as a filmmaker and not show the shark.
I can’t just talk about the feel of the show if I expect to post this so now I will talk about the technical aspects of the show. First of all, Stranger Things is one of the only Netflix shows where I don’t skip the intro. It is quick, it sets the tone perfectly, it looks great, and more importantly the “theme song” is beautiful. It is a great mix of a modern score and classic synth soundtracks. Luckily that score carries throughout the entire series and it fits beautifully. That’s not to say that there isn’t a few missteps in the score department; specifically at the end of episode 3 there is a song that does fit the tone of the scene, but doesn’t fit the overall feel of the show. It is hard to explain without spoiling too much so I’ll leave it at that. Of course you then have the acting which was absolutely phenomenal. The show follows a lot of characters, and a good number of them are children. I wouldn’t be lying if I said that these child actors are amazing, and they have great careers ahead of them. It is not often that I am left speechless after having just seen a performance, but this occurred multiple times with many of the children. Of course you then have Winona Ryder, who is top billed, who’s performance is great, but I couldn’t stop seeing Winona Ryder. Everyone else disappeared into their roles (maybe because I didn’t recognize them) but Ryder always seemed to stick out. Again, her performances were great, it was just another feeling that I couldn’t shake. Then you have David Harbour as the police chief who did a fantastic job as well. Honestly I can’t name everyone, but know that everyone deserved to be named for their amazing performances. And just to bring up effects again, I want to clarify that not all of the effects are bad. There are many sets that were built that look amazing, and even some instances where the CGI looked good, but unfortunately the bad outweighed the good for me. Everyone is saying that Stranger Things is “the new Goonies”, or “the better Super 8”, and while I agree I do believe that it is it’s own thing. Even though there are some things that are too close in resemblance to classic films for comfort; Stranger Things really is a show that accomplished it’s goal by transporting it’s audience to the past.
Ultimately Stranger Things is a show that should be watched. If you like Stephen King watch Stranger Things. If you like the movies of Steven Spielberg watch Stranger Things. If you enjoy any films form the 80’s watch Stranger Things. If you live under a rock and therefore can’t relate to any of the previous statements watch Stranger Things. Just watch Stranger Things.