On July 15, a new Netflix show was released called Stranger Things. I immediately honed in on it and demanded that me and my significant other watch it together ASAP because it looked exactly like the kind of television show I love: the Stephen King vibe (hello, Needful Things!), the ’80s throwback setting, the premise that blends The X-Files-style conspiracies with all the atmosphere of a Steven Spielberg film.
And you know what? Stranger Things did not disappoint. I loved this 8-hour, 8-episode series so very much. (As much as E.T. loves Reese’s Pieces, you might say.) To express my love for this show, instead of a traditional review, I’m going the list route–here are eleven reasons (ELEVEN, get it?!) to get Stranger Things in your digital binge-watching rotation, stat.
11. The ’80s (and ’90s) kickbacks to great horror and SFF films of old.
This should come as no surprise for anyone–Stranger Things riffs heavily on ’80s (and some ’70s and ’90s) films, paying homage to some truly great SFF movies. The video above captures a ton of them–most heavily focusing on The Goonies, Alien, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, A Nightmare on Elm Street–and there are plenty of other films that didn’t make the cut (Altered States, It, etc among many others). Are you a speculative fiction/horror film fan? ALL of the awesomeness of Stranger Things awaits.
10. Synth Music. Typography. Costumes. Dungeons & Dragons.
The nostalgia factor is so high with this series. From the opening credits (above), to the sweet ’80s Indiana set, to the frumpy costumes, to the heavy introductory Dungeons and Dragons gameplay, this ish is awesome. I mean, listen to that John Carpenter-esque intro!
9. All Stephen King. All the time.
From the Cujo reading in the hospital, to the references to The Stand, It (slingshot power, people!), Firestarter, Cycle of the Werewolf, The Tommyknockers, and the very overt Needful Things (and Nightmares and Dreamscapes) title credits, Stranger Things is all about Stephen King. And I freaking love it.
8. Other literary allusions.
From X-Men to Dean Koontz, Robert McCannon to Arthur C. Clarke, there are a ton of other SFF book references in this series to compliment the many film references. (And obviously, all the aforementioned Stephen King ones, too.)
7. Government conspiracies and storylines that make sense (but leave a lot to the imagination).
The government is up to no good in Stranger Things, experimenting on young children, covering up deaths and other big mistakes, all led by Matthew Modine playing the part of one bad man in black. There’s a portal that has been ripped into a dark other-dimension and there’s a monster that roams the darkness between the worlds, feeding on the weak and the young. The story revolves around this interdimensional rift, and the many lives that are affected in a small Indiana town because of its existence. There are some answers given over the course of these 8 episodes… but plenty of open-ended questions, too. Just the way it should be. Right?
6. The relationships between characters.
Stranger Things is a show that focuses on the relationships between characters, as well as specific characterization. There’s romance between two teens, jealousy, friendship, parent-child bonding, relationships between teachers and students… there are also shitty relationships, too. They all feel really real though, and that’s pretty awesome.
5. Teen romance and angst that isn’t overblown (well, not too much).
Obligatory romance–including teen drinking and sex, but in a way that is respectful and shows that it’s the girl’s choice. (Bonus, the ’80s jerk dude isn’t just an ’80s jerk dude. I love that subversion.) ANGST. I like it.
4. The cast–which isn’t very much like many of the other ’80s and ’90s kickbacks.
The first characters we meet in Stranger Things are four young boys, playing Dungeons and Dragons in a basement. These aren’t popular kids–it’s the runt, the nerd, the boy with Cleidocranial dysplasia, the headstrong kid who refuses to listen to anyone else. I love that these aren’t all white kids, and I like that there’s representation from women in this show.
Speaking of, let’s talk about the female characters in the series for a second. Women in this show are all put in shitty positions–the teenage girl who is called a slut by a shitty guy, the single mother who loses her son but knows even when everyone tells her she’s crazy that he is alive, the little girl who has been tortured, manipulated, and experimented on her entire life. Each of these women are the driving heart of the show–El is the show’s superhero; Nancy is the one who refuses to give up on her missing friend (and when the chips are down, the one who demands that she be in the fight against the monster); Joyce is the mother who refuses to give up on her child (and refuses to let Hopper go into “the upside down” without her).
The women are the ones who make things happen in this show–and if that isn’t subverting SFF ’80s tropes, then I don’t know what is.
3. The acting
Winona Ryder is amazing, utterly convincing, and sympathetic. The little girl who plays Eleven, Millie Bobby Brown, is PHENOMENAL. This young actor is able to convey emotion with her eyes and face, and puts older more experienced actors to shame. Everyone does a great job in the series–from the evil government stooges, to the young boys who vow to find their missing friend. Seriously, quality stuff.
2. The fact that there is a season 2 coming, already confirmed.
And it will be a direct sequel to this season (not some new ish following different characters).
She can flip cars over with her mind! She can make cats meow and make peoples’ brains bleed out of their eyes! She is one powerful little girl, but underneath it all a good friend who knows right from wrong. Make no mistake: El is the hero of this story.
The makeover scene draws a lot of fire and I understand the anger and frustration–however, I interpreted that scene (and Eleven’s entire arc) differently. The boys comment that El looks “pretty” with her pink dress and blonde wig–a common staple in ’80s and ’90s films (the ugly/weird girl gets a makeover and suddenly the boy likes them). However the purpose here is subversive and practical–El’s makeover is to make her look less noticable, less conspicuous. It’s her disguise (in the same way that Superman dons Clark Kent’s glasses and shy persona) because she is extraordinary. Moreover, the effects of the makeover are quickly dissipated–El keeps her clothes (that make her a person that is part of this world) but loses the wig, because it’s not who she is. I read into this as El becoming her own person, the tragic and reluctant hero, who is neither just a numbered experiment in a government research/weapons lab, nor a pretty place-setting girl. She is El; complicated, prickly, emotionally raw and powerful. She is the hero of this story; no one else. And she is awesome. I cannot wait to see more of her next season.