Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Duffer Brothers Channel Stephen King and Steven Spielberg with 'Stranger Things'

Stranger Things is the first non-Marvel Netflix show I’ve watched.  It’s set during the early 1980’s in a small Indiana town called Hawkins, and tells the tale of the mysterious disappearance of 12-year-old Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) and the ensuing search and investigation conducted by his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder); brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton); best friends Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin); and the local police led by Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour).   An enigmatic psychokinetic girl named Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown), shady government agents, top secret experiments, and a sinister extra-dimensional entity are also in the mix.   I won’t give anymore plot details since this is best enjoyed when one just has a vague idea on what it’s all about.
This 8-episode science fiction horror web TV series is essentially a love letter to 1980’s pop culture, particularly the works of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg.  The Duffer Brothers, the creators of this show, craft Stranger Things to amazingly channel – with profound familiarity and in flawless detail – the tropes, themes, dialogue, styles, and tones that are inherent to movies and novels like E.T., Poltergeist, Stand by Me, Firestarter, and It.  Thus, the show genuinely looks and feels like something King and Spielberg had collaborated on back in the 80’s.  This aspect is easily the biggest draw of this show for those of my generation, those who were already around in the 80’s-90’s, who have the familiarity and fondness for the things that this show references.  I’m not sure if it’ll work as emphatically for those who grew up in the 2000’s.

However, one’s familiarity for those things being referenced will eventually cut like a double-edged sword.  On one hand, it makes the nostalgic points hit home.  On the other, it sometimes makes the whole thing seem a bit clichéd and predictable.  But overall though, it still serves as a net positive for the show.
I also love the great acting from the cast – adult, teen, kid – all of them.  Their strong performances provide the authenticity and personality that this show requires.  I would especially like to see its young actors have successful careers in the future.

Stranger Things is a delight.  It indeed relies heavily on nostalgia, but it also handles the allusions and narrative in an intelligent manner and with proficient execution.  The scares are minimal, but the suspense and sense of intrigue are ever present.  It delivers the warm feels as well as the addictive thrills of the incitement of the imagination.
A season two hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s something that needs to happen.  Yes, it can be said that it has already told a full story, so we can contentedly do without another season.  But I think more pleasing tales that revisits 1980’s science fiction/horror/adventure can still be made with the same setting and characters.

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