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In a small town a boy goes missing, a girl with powers appears and everything turns upside down.

There’s both not a lot to say and way too much to say about the first season of this show.  Stranger Things was brought to life by the Duffer Brothers, who do not have too many well-known credits yet, but will become household names in the cult realm for sure soon enough. The show is a science-fiction thriller that is a big love song to the science fiction and horror films of the late 70s and into the 80s. Besides the clear nods to the past, this show is a brilliant example of great writing and directing.  Set as a period piece of a show, it embodies the heart of the 80s with the setting, the technology or lack thereof, the pop culture, the costumes, and beyond.

Taking place in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana a young boy, Will Byers, goes missing in a mysterious fashion.  Will’s best buds Mike, Lucas, and Dustin decide it is up to them to find and save him.  Along the way they come across a young girl who appears to have escaped from somewhere, and is in need of help.  As the story continues along, more and more details are revealed about Will’s whereabouts as well as this girl’s origin and interesting abilities. While the first season is a grand total of eight 1-hour long episodes, they are very juicy episodes, and the show starts off more science fiction and ends as more horror/thriller.  Both genres are constantly mixed throughout the duration of the show but are slightly more prevalent in certain moments or episodes.

As most know, both sci-fi and horror were big in the late 70s and 80s; that’s there was a science fiction boom as well as the blockbuster-level birth of slasher films.  In other words, just from the story’s genre span it fits with the 80s. Being set in 1983 makes this a perfect home for all the references and homage paid to the 70s and 80s.  In truth though, what makes this show feel as though it completely fits in that time is that the entire plot is character driven.  Most, if not all, of the best cult films from the 70s and 80s are heavily character driven films, and that has been lost for some time now.  In current times most movies or shows go for the special effects, the razzle dazzle, or just the all-out, in-your-face surprise scare tactics. This show did not have the aesthetic of a blockbuster of modern times.  That may have been intentional or it may not have been, since the Duffer Brothers tried to get the show picked up by numerous networks before Netflix agreed and took the risk that is so clearly paying off.  Stranger Things may not have been given as big of a budget as other shows because it seemed like such a risk, besides which the budget may have largely been filtered into affording the few larger name actors in the show.  Nonetheless, anything that drives the plot of the show is purely a character driven device and is not meant to impress the audience.  The show itself is impressive because it does not try to impress the audience nor does it rely upon impressing viewers.  Instead, the show bends rules and takes bold risks and introduces the viewers to new twists and reintroduces the audiences to techniques of the past.

Numerous 70s-80s film tropes were present with characters and plot as well.  While certain things seemed predictable or expected, the truth is to expect the unexpected with Stranger Things.  The group of Will Byers’ friends, including himself, were reflective of The Goonies, the friends in E.T., Stand by Me, and Explorers as well.  Eleven or “El” is E.T. for numerous reasons. Steve was a typical 80s pretty-boy character, similar to that in most teen movies from then, like Pretty in Pink or even Troy in The Goonies.  Michael Byers was the typical weird kid that turned out to be a hero to a degree. Barb was the nerdy sidekick friend similar to Stef (Martha Plympton) in The Goonies.  The law officer with a backstory; Hopper, who will go to any and all lengths to solve the problem is similar to Roy Scheider in Jaws.  Winona Ryder’s character of Mrs. Byers was overly emotional and reflected the emotions of the audience, which is incredibly similar to the character of Lambert from Alien. Even Matthew Modine’s role was that of a behind-the-scenes sort of villain that may or may not have been good, and reflects many characters from 80s sci-fi.  The characters were just all around great, especially the contrast that some had with others, and the dynamic of the different pairings or groupings of characters also brought a charm to the series.

winona stranger things

However, besides the characters being similar to other film roles of the 70s and 80s, the cinematography was what really nailed it.  Numerous shots are set up and played out to be just like shots of films from that timeframe.  To name a few of the films that this show pays homage to in shots, there’s The Goonies, E.T., Firestarter, Alien, Carrie, Stand by Me, Commando, Explorers, Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and more.  Along with the nods and homage there were direct references in the background with posters of Evil Dead, The Thing, Dark Crystal, and Dungeons and Dragons.  While it was cool to see the posters, it distracted from the believability of it because it would be rare for any kids of the 80s to have had full-sized and perfect conditioned posters on their walls.  The posters should have been smaller, or at least artwork or stills of the films, as well as being slightly ripped or creased to show that they had been moved around the walls a ton of times.

The special effects were both practical and digital and were not overpowering in either direction.  Both the monster and the “upside-down” looked like sets and costumes at times, but they also were touched up nicely and made more believable.  The use of CG helps set the show apart from being 100 percent on 70s-80s as it was barely in use then and still in development. The music in the show even adds to the aesthetic of the time.  Albeit at times some of the music was released later than 1983, but was still 80s, yet those songs are playing over the show as part of the soundtrack and are not directly involved in any kind of scenes with characters or environments. The costuming adds to the mix as well, since there are lots of possibilities with 80s costuming, but things like vests, denim, trucker hats, rolled up jeans, and so on were just perfect.  “El” is even dressed up at one point to have a dress similar to Carrie’s combined with a blonde wig similar to the wig put on E.T.’s head.  Everything really comes together to make this show one coherent and brilliant piece of work that everyone is talking about.  Even the theme music and the look and feel of the intro help to bring the show together.

Stranger Things is a great show that just needs to be watched. Truly hitting the nail on the head of the 70s-80s feel, as well as if not better than Super 8 did, makes this show incredibly appealing to the binge-watching generations right now.  It has so much buzz about it that fan art and theories about the unanswered are popping up everywhere.  This means that there will more than likely be at least one more season to it.  While the Duffer Brothers may not have much under their belts as of yet, they are sure to continue to grow and show the world stranger things than ever before.  Make sure to have some Eggos handy when viewing…


Directed by: The Duffer Brothers

Produced by:  The Duffer Brothers, Shawn Levy

Written by: The Duffer Brothers

Starring: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Cara Buono, Matthew Modine

Distributed by: Netflix

Released: July 15th 2016

Run time:  Hour long episodes

Rated: TV-14

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