Netflix has been churning out original content that is creative, charming, funny, on the edge and inventive. They give their shows time to breathe, to expand and to grow. They also dump all the episodes into the world at once, which is both a blessing and a curse. For fans it’s amazing to not be stuck waiting week after week in anticipation for the new episode to our favourite show, not to have to suffer through another forced cliffhanger and to be able to consume the product we want, when we want it. This is also its curse as the original programming that Netflix has been delivering is really, really good and without a small bit of self control by the viewer, will usually be consumed over a weekend forcing fans to wait an entire year to view new episodes.
This is the case with one of Netflix’s newest offerings Stranger Things. This is a complete homage to the 80’s movies created by Spielberg and Lucas, as well as the game’s, music, novels and pop culture of the time. I will attempt to keep this as spoiler free as possible but if you haven’t seen the series yet there may be minor spoilers ahead.
The show opens with the disappearance of Will Beyers, one quarter of a nerdy group of friends and over the course of 8 episodes we slowly begin to unravel the mystery of what has happened to Will.
At the surface level, Stranger Things is nothing more than a monster of the week movie featuring some known character tropes that save the day. You have the evil bad government agency that is conducting experiments that go horribly wrong, the basement dwelling nerds playing Dungeons and Dragons, their bully/tormentors, the jock, the bumbling police and the virgin. Then you start diving into each episode and you realize that these aren’t the characters you are used to seeing on screen. The bumbling cop is broken and dealing with his pain, the virgin turned non-virgin doesn’t fall, sticks up for herself and becomes an ass kicker, the nerds stand up for themselves and fight back, the jock turns out to not be so bad and the popular girl doesn’t fall for the shy quiet boy, instead going with the jock.
Things are indeed twisty turvy in Stranger Things and that is a good thing. More than a simple homage to the 80’s this is more a love letter that is penned exceptionally well and leaves you aching for that summer love. It’s as if John Carpenter, Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg all got together and decided to create a horror, mystery, sci-fi thriller and this is the result. In fact, the monster would feel just as right inside a Stephen King novel as it does in Stranger Things and Pennywise the clown from IT would play equally as well here, calling kids down to the sewers. This is not to say it’s a bad thing, in fact it plays out extremely well and works because of this.
Each episode of Stranger Things has a feel more like that of the chapters in a novel, each connected and pushing the plot forward to a conclusion. Not, like many current television shows which tend to rehash old problems in order to churn out more of the same. With Stranger Things each episode serves a purpose at advancing the story along at what feels at times to be frenetic and at others nail biting suspenseful. The pacing works and it never lets up, always leaving you wanting just a little bit more, which works well for a Netflix audience which can continue on to the next episode without stopping. It was no surprise to hear executive producer Shawn Levy describe the ideal way to watch Stranger Things as an 8 hour movie, as the episodes string together to feel exactly like that.
With a diverse cast of kids and veteran actors the show could easily run off the rails. The cast though, is really, really good and the chemistry that the kids have shows through on screen. They genuinely appear to be friends. Winona Ryder brings a presence to the screen that is powerful as she plays the mother of Will Beyers and you can see her emotional frailty as she deals with the loss of her son before finding the courage to discover the truth and David Harbour as Sheriff Hopper goes through a character arc that by the end leaves you wondering what really is going on.
In saying all that, the show is not perfect and there are some minor complaints that I had after completing the season.
The first being that I don’t think this show would work when paced out over the course of a week or weeks. It seems to thrive inside that marathon session of watching and I think would lose much of its impact when drawn out.
The next issue would have to do with their being only 8 episodes. I would have loved to see an additional 2 episodes that could be used to fill in a little bit more information about what the monster is, maybe more about Will and his story of survival, or even more information about the other disappearances in the town.
My final complaint has to do with finishing the series and being left with almost as many new questions as what had been answered. Will a new season address these? It could be a year before we find out and as of right now a second season hasn’t even been confirmed by Netflix, so we may never know.
Stranger Things is really good and with minor annoyances and story gaps that are easily overlooked because of how great the series is. I hope that we see a new season soon, even this year that addresses the unanswered questions and is able to still provide a unique and fresh feeling story that drives the series forward. What I really do not wish to see is the series playing it safe and rehashing this season but with a new monster and bad guys.
Final Verdict: I loved Stranger Things and would give this a 4.5 out of 5. I highly recommend that if you have yet to see it yet, put it on your list and binge watch it as soon as possible.
I’d love to know if you’ve seen Stranger Things yet and what your thoughts on this series, as always leave your comments and discussion below.