The 1980s were my time. This, for me, was the perfect storm of life, entertainment and influence. It was when Spielberg found his visual voice. When John Carpenter delivered the greatness of Snake Plissken and The Thing unto the world. Stephen King’s work was confiscating the literary conversation. Special effects were finally able to transport us to distant galaxies.
This was a time of magic.
Netflix’s Stranger Things confidently launches its tale right on the cusp of everything I hold dear to my heart. It is 1983 in the blissfully naïve town of Hawkins, Indiana. This was a time of innocence, the long-forgotten era where kids stayed out until the street lights came on and expanded their imaginations while traversing the neighborhoods via banana seats and skateboards. And parents were able to allow this without despair setting in.
We are introduced to our young gang of misfit heroes amidst a rousing game of Dungeons and Dragons. Mike, Lucas, Dustin and Will (Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo and Noah Schnapp) are best friends who spend an extraordinary amount of time together, just being pals – this is what we did before the internet and console gaming, kids. Think E.T. with a dash of Goonies. This friendship becomes sorely tested as the series introduces its linchpin: Will never makes it home that night.
This is not some clichéd missing child scenario though, oh no. Creators Matt and Ross Duffer have something far more off-kilter in mind for poor Will. As his mother Joyce – Winona Ryder, devouring the pathos of her most layered performance in years – comes to believe, Will might be communicating with her through random electronics. Could this all be a distraught mother’s increasing madness? Could Will truly be signaling his mother through Christmas lights and fried telephones? What if, instead of a kidnapping, this was much more of a paranormal happenstance?
David Harbour’s morose and skeptical Sheriff Hopper initially rejects pretty much every option, believing this to be nothing more than Will’s estranged father snatching him up out of spite. Yet as his figurative mental cloud clears, Hopper turns out to be a formidable dog for this hunt. He also evolves into so much more than a one-note character following a prescribed arc, he becomes our eyes into the well of this tale of souls.
The beauty of this series lies not only in the complexities of the story and nostalgic reverence, but also in its casting of the brilliant young actors The Duffer’s have put in place. As Mike, Dustin and Lucas set off on their own personal quest to save Will, they stumble upon Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a mysterious young girl with a shaved head and a deep understanding of the many layers at play in Hawkins, Indiana. Each and every one of these child actors would be exceptional on their own, squashed here altogether at once in these super 8 episodes is nothing short of amazing.
From the opening scenes of Stranger Things, it becomes painfully apparent The Duffer Brothers adore the ’80s too. Not only does the series take place in 1983, it FEELS like the ’80s. You can almost taste the New Coke flavor as you wrap your mind around the Rubik’s Cube of a riddle the story skillfully weaves before dropping in your lap. It’s as if they took all of my favorite toys of the ’80s – E.T., The Thing, Stephen King’s IT, any score by John Carpenter – and then wrapped them all up, nudged them under my Christmas tree in a sexy package of awesome, only to let me crack the box open several months early. The visual aesthetic, the title cards, the clothes, the mannerisms, the creatures, the score, the ideology, Winona Ryder herself, even Hopper’s hat – EVERYTHING in Stranger Things is a sensual love letter to the ’80s.
I haven’t even mentioned the earnest attention given to Mike’s sister, Nancy (Natalie Dyer), or Will’s brother, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), the hilarious obliviousness of Mike and Nancy’s parents, nor the creepy appearance of a Gandalf-haired Matthew Modine as an ominous benefactor. I wish I could, but I CAN’T! So much of the beauty of this series lies in the journey, and like Will’s besties, it’s better to learn as you go.
All you really need to know is this: It’s as if Stephen King wrote a movie that was directed by Steven Spielberg and scored by John Carpenter, all at the height of their respective careers. If you adore those things I mentioned above, stop reading this and find your nearest Netflix enabled device. This is a series any fan of the 80s or great television in general needs to watch as soon as humanly possible.
Stranger Things is a nostalgia bomb of greatness.