When Netflix dropped Stranger Things on July 15, I knew I’d have to at least give it a try. The show featured Winona Ryder, who I haven’t been able to get enough of since watching her refuse Christian Bale’s Laurie and embrace Gabriel Byrne’s Professor Bhaer in the 1994 adaptation of Little Women, and even better, it looked to be a little bit sci-fi, a little bit horror, and a little bit 1980s.
I wasn’t wrong, either.
Matt and Ross Duffer, who also directed and wrote the 2015 film Hidden, created and directed the 8-episode season for Netflix. The series is set in a small Indiana town in 1983, where 12-year-old Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) goes missing. His mother Joyce (Ryder) and his older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) are sure that he has not run away or been kidnapped by his absentee father, and it’s not long before the town’s Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is in agreement.
Meanwhile, Will’s friends and fellow D&D players (oh yes, the geekitude abounds here) are launching their own investigation into Will’s disappearance with its own complications. Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matazzarro), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) search for Will in the rain one night, just after he has gone missing, when they run into a girl in the woods. Her hair is buzzed off, and she is obviously running from something. The only name she has is Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), which is tattooed on the inside of her wrist. She doesn’t speak very often, and she has a few odd talents–like telekinesis. Most importantly, the boys suspect that she is somehow connected to their friend, and she agrees to help them find him.
From the moment the show opened, my husband and I could not stop talking about how cohesive the 1980s world created by the Duffer Brothers. The show’s opening has been given the 1980s treatment, with synthesized music and a font that anyone who frequents secondhand bookstores (or was reading horror in the 1980s) will immediately recognize as straight from a Stephen King paperback cover.
And sometimes, the show is like an odd little love-letter to the 1980s, built with not only plot similarities to popular films of the era (especially notable are homages to Steven Spielberg and the aforementioned King) but occasionally with shots and design decisions as well. In fact, there were moments when set design and props were so good that I found myself saying “hey, I had that jewelry box” or “oh my gosh, we had a lamp just like that.”
But I never forgot that I was watching something new, even if it did seem to be a pastiche–maybe because it was a pastiche. Critics have suggested that the show’s subplots are too labyrinthine, and perhaps on some level that is true. There are characters I haven’t even mentioned–like Mike’s older sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and her boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery), or the villainous Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), are relevant to the overall plot, though not in a way that fits into a spoiler-free summary. But if there’s one thing the show excels at, it’s pulling together what seem like disparate moments, plots, and references into a cohesive story that is both chilling and fun.
In short, I can’t wait for season two, which has not yet been officially green-lit but expected to be very soon.