Stranger Things

Stranger Things

I mentioned Stranger Things recently when I did my write up of what was coming to Netflix in July. I thought it looked fantastic and I posted a trailer video. It debuted on July 15th and I didn't get to watch it right away as I was waiting for my watching partner to start his vacation, so we could binge our hearts out together and discuss, discuss, discuss. I was pretty psyched by the time we watched it, a whole week after it debuted!

Writer Connie Willis recently said that a sign of a good story is that it can't be synopsised. In that case Stranger Things is a terrific story because I had a terrible time deciding what to say that wasn't too spoilery. The story focuses on a group of four friends; Mike (Finn Wolfhard (great name!)), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp). They are about 12 years old and when we first meet them they were engaged in the end of a marathon Dungeons & Dragons game. Mike is the dungeon master and is in the process of unleashing a tremendously powerful monster, a demogorgon, on the group. Mike's mother splits up the game immediately following the next die cast and the boys ride home on their bicycles, where one of them vanishes, leaving the others distraught and determined to find them.

Meanwhile a girl their age (played by Millie Brown) escapes from a foreboding government facility. (Her name is Eleven, the number tattooed on the inside of her arm. Pro tip; something terrible is going on whenever you see a number tattooed on someone's forearm.) It wouldn't be a story if these kids paths didn't cross, and they do, fairly quickly. Eleven is obviously traumatized, with very short hair and wearing only a hospital gown. Mike takes her under his wing, with Dustin and Lucas less enthusiastic. They want to concentrate on finding Will and Lucas doesn't trust the girl at all.

Meanwhile Joyce, Will’s mom, beautifully played by Winona Ryder, is going crazy trying to find her son. And I use the term going crazy quite deliberately. As she tries to decipher what is happening and find her son her behavior looks erratic at best. She is led to believe that Will is trying to communicate with her via flickering lights, so she loads up the house with just about as many lights as you possibly could; including a bazillion Christmas lights. When they blink she talks to Will, which doesn't look very good to anyone who hasn't experienced what she has.

I absolutely loved Ms. Ryder's performance. She is completely believable as she plays the fine line between distraught and totally loco. I particularly liked her performance with the young girl who is trying to help them. She is so loving to poor El and supportive. You can practically feel the warm feelings coming across the TV screen.

Her unlikely complement is Chief Hopper, played by David Harbour, when we first meet him he seems like he is going to be a serious problem. He's ultra grouchy, kind of sloppy looking, and is dismissive of Joyce's concerns. But soon enough this guy begins to rev up and we start learning his back story and see that he is actually a bulldogged, resourceful, courageous man. He's also foolhardy and made me cringe with his escapades. But once you get him on your side, he is an excellent addition to your team.

There are so many more characters that are important, but I would write thousands of words and probably spoil the hell out of the story if I talked about all of them. So I will have to skip ahead, and discuss how this series hits the nostalgic sweet spot for a couple of generations.

I knew before I watched episode one that it paid an homage to movies of the eighties, which made watching it that much more fun. There were a couple of scenes that strongly reminded me of the movie Stand By Me. There are lots of references to Stephen King's work, most especially Firestarter of course. And of course films like Goonies. And Silkwood, and ET, and Altered States, etc, etc, etc. By the end of the series I had lost track of the enormous number of films referenced and was just concentrating on the story.

It's hard to have a story that is both new and pays tribute to the films and tropes that have influenced you as a creator. It's too easy for a project to become derivative or dull and stuffy. Stranger things doesn't suffer from any of this negativity.

So was it as good as I was hoping it was going to be? I would say definitely yes. Of course I had a few little quibbles with it, as I do with just about everything, but it was quite an enjoyable series. Be advised, like much of what I have been discussing lately Stranger Things has an ambiguous ending, with lots of questions left unanswered. (Like since we have someone named Eleven then did there used to be one through ten? If so what happened to them?) But that just gives you something to talk about while waiting for season two, right? Stranger Things can be found on Netflix.

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is a video that makes me smile no matter what kinds of dreary things might have been going on that day. It's a couple of months old but it's just as good the twentieth watch as it is the first. Marlon Webb and friends star as the most interesting joggers in town. They are so perky and bouncy!