A NERD WATCHES STRANGER THINGS

Sunday, August 14th, 2016


This is probably not the best idea.

I usually give myself a few days at least before I start writing up any kind of show/movie review, just so I’m not overwhelmed with emotions and I can give an unbiased, thorough opinion. SCREW THAT. I just finished the last episode of Stranger Things, the new Netflix series that’s taking the world by storm and I am losing my mind.

A ten-hour homage to 80’s sci-fi, with a bunch of child actors in all leading roles, unfortunate looking aliens and Winona Rider is definitely not how I thought I’d be spending the last days of summer, yet here I am pounding my fists on my desk and schreeching FRIENDS DON’T LIE at my laptop screen.

Before I get deeper into this psychosis I must quickly mention this is the second time I’m doing the ‘make me watch‘ challenge where one of you suggests a movie or a TV pilot for me to watch and I must do so completely unspoiled, while documenting my reactions on snapchat (christieperry05). You are missing a lot of cussing and freaking out in a Minnie Mouse voice if you don’t have me added over there, so allow this joy into your life.
Let’s break it down to the top elements that made Stranger Things stand out and become an immediate hit, while turning my brain into greenish goo.

THE FAMILIAR ATMOSHPERE

I was yet to be born during the 1980’s but there are a few things I feel like I’ve always known; the food was rubbish, the Ozone layer was cracking, everything was synthetic and the global fashion industry was probably on bad drugs. But there was good music and there was good cinema, especially in the sci fi genre, with films like The Goonies, E.T. and Back To The Future. The Duffer brothers pay perfect homage to what we love about 80’s pop culture, from Steven Spielberg to The Clash, hitting that nostalgia bone so precisely you can’t help but become addicted to Stranger Things not even fifteen minutes in the pilot.

The same thing happens as the viewer gets introduced to the characters of the mysterious story, who all look and sound eerily recognizable, not because the writing gives in to tired tropes and stale narrative but rather because it skillfully brings back true classics. The adorable group of young misfits who crave adventure and love comic books. The clueless mother who’s trying her best. The alcoholic chief with a dark secret and a heart of gold. The broody, antisocial photographer who somehow manages to charm the prom queen.

That’s where I think the genius of this show lies: it’s smart, fresh and interesting while using themes we all know by heart and never expect to be surprised by. It thrives in its simplicity and ultimately knocks our socks off by using it against us.

Apart from the hundreds of smartly placed movie references, this is also achieved by the show’s amazing soundtrack, which includes plenty of beloved tunes like the iconic Should I Stay Or Should I Go?  by The Clash.

Never thought this song could creep me out as much as it did.

THE CHILDREN

When 12-year-old Will Byers vanishes while biking back to his house after a game of Dungeons and Dragons, everyone who loves him is willing to move the Earth upside down (wink wink) to find him. Soon, the good guys form three different groups in their search for the missing boy: one is his mother Joyce and chief Jim Hopper, the other is his brother Jonathan and the school’s perfect girl Nancy Wheeler while the last one is his three best friends who know him better than anyone.

I have to say, while all three parties are crucial to the story and their arcs definitely keep you on the edge of your seat, I always felt a sting of disappointment when the focus wasn’t on the kids.

At the very last shot of the pilot, the small protagonists who go by the names of Dustin, Lucas and Mike come face to face with Eleven, a girl of very few words who has a buzz cut and telepathic abilities and hides in Mike’s basement because bad people are looking for her. Eleven gradually learns by their example what family, friendship and loyalty mean while the Lilliputian squad experiences an epic adventure, in order to save Will.

The child actors not only deliver amazing performances, with Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven obviously standing out, but they have incredible chemistry with each other which convinces you of just how deep and strong their friendship actually is.
While Winona Ryder’s character is magnificent and her acting is of course top notch, I personally feel like Joyce’s journey becomes too heavy with motherly grief and desperation; it often gets almost unbearable to watch especially when we don’t even know if we should believe her or not. Switching to the kids is always a pleasant change of pace. They are obviously concerned about their friend’s safety but are also visibly enjoying being part of a real life version of Dungeons and Dragons.

My personal favorite is Dustin Henderson, who is quite honestly the cutest child I have ever laid eyes upon, what with his toothless grin and curly set of hair. He also seems to be the most logical one, always insists they stick together and brings food when everyone is too busy to think about the essentials.

If I ever have children I want an army of Dustins.

THE DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO THE RIDDLE

I am completely ripping this off tumblr so kudos to whoever came up with it, but I have yet to see a better interpretation of the show’s writing anywhere else: as we get deeper into the tale of Will’s disappearance, the different groups not only go their separate ways but they  enter three individual genres of storytelling.

Joyce and Hopper are in a X-Files-like conspiracy horror movie with political undertones, Jonathan and Nancy are in a teen thriller based on romance and school drama, while Eleven and her boys star in a thrilling coming-of-age sci fi.

These genres coexist harmonically in each episode until all characters hit a dead end because they don’t possess every piece of the puzzle. The one chance they have to save Will is to come clean and unite their efforts. Instead of ruining the flow, this adds more layers to Stranger Things’ narrative, makes it richer and original.

Of course, this isn’t to say that I didn’t have objections with certain aspects of the show, the first one being the extremely unfair treatment of Barb, Nancy’s best friend who gets snatched by the monster and killed almost instantly. Poor Barb only ever wanted to help Nancy and keep her guarded around her new friends of questionable morals and yet she dies alone, sad and scared. Not only that but we never see anyone else reacting to her death besides Nancy! Not even a tiny storyline to show us her parents worrying and eventually grieving. #barbdeservedbetter
Also, as much as I crave to see more of this world, I feel like a second season might not be the best idea for Stranger Things. The questions  left unanswered (is Eleven alive? What was the chief’s deal with the government bad guys? How much did the alien screw Will up?) could easily have been tied up in one more episode of season 1 instead of running the risk of tainting the very carefully crafted universe the Duffer brothers created.

Already, the finale felt a tad anticlimactic and, much like most sequels to awesome movies, a second season of this show could make it or break it. I’m still crossing my fingers though; if anything I need to see Jonathan and Nancy making out at least once.