By Brian Brecker
Elm Staff Writer
Stranger Things is a fantastic show that wears its influences on its sleeve yet has more problems than people would like to admit. In a suburban American town like any other, Will Byers, a young child and nerd, is kidnapped by a mysterious creature from a world upside down from our own. Meanwhile, a young girl named Eleven with telekinetic powers escapes from a research facility, and meets up with Will’s friends only to find their fates are intertwined. As well, a rugged police officer, Chief Hopper investigates the boy’s disappearance to discover the issue is much larger than any one small town cop can handle.
The true breakout aspect of quality in this television show is the brilliant child actors. Every single one of the main kid characters are engaging, well-written, and expertly acted. They even put some of the adult actors to shame (looking at you, Joe Keery). Stranger Things works so well mainly due to the very human characters who you grow to love and empathize with over the series. You see their flaws, their failures, and their struggle to figure out what is the right thing to do in the screwed situation they’ve been thrown into.
Winona Ryder gives a dazzlingly emphatic performance as Joyce Byers, Will’s mother, as she claws for any bit of hope there is left. I would also note Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven), Finn Wolfhard (Mike), David Harbour (Chief Hopper), and Charlie Heaton (Jonathon) as break-out talents with definite promising futures ahead. Jonathon’s character especially I feel is underrated; he’s a loner, who has lost his little brother and is now tasked with keeping his own mother sane in the aftermath. Nearly all of the characters have real emotional depth and get their own chance to shine.
The writing is usually on point, however there are clunky plot devices, plot holes, useless characters and some rushed sections that I think could have been expanded. The show’s first season only has eight episodes, and I felt this wasn’t quite necessary. The lead up to the ending feels especially rushed and occasionally characters will do something with little motivation simply to push the plot forward. One subplot involving the return of Jonathon’s biological father I felt was really unnecessary due to how it was almost immediately made irrelevant. The character of Steve, Nancy’s boyfriend (Nancy being Mike’s older sister), really suffers from rushed character development towards the end to the point where I feel where Steve ended up is unjustified by the story.
As well, the monster, while being a cool imaginative concept, has no real visceral edge to it. The Duffer Brothers, who created the show, chose correctly to keep the creature design mostly in the shadows as it often comes across as a bit of a generic alien. Most of the actual tension and horror in the show comes from the emotional distress of the characters and in this way the film is exceptional at getting the audience on board for the ride. As well, this show doesn’t provide every answer you may wish for, and leaves a lot open to interpretation and discussion. Thankfully, a second season has already been commissioned and I am excited to see how the show progresses.
Stranger Things also works as a best hits compilation of sorts of scifi-horror from the 1980s. The techno-score envelops the audience in a synthetic symphony highly reminiscent of the compositions done by prolific 1980s filmmaker John Carpenter, director of Halloween and The Thing, to name a few. The series also incorporates Stephen King-esque elements, including emotionless cruel bullies, telekinetic children, and general coming of age storyline. The Spielberg influences are plain to see as many scenes pay visual homage to E.T. Posters for The Thing and Evil Dead are also seen and while the show is definitely not as extreme as those two, it appears the filmmakers took influence from there as well. Throughout I got strong vibes of Ridley Scott, mainly in reference to Alien, as it incorporates a gritty sci-fi style with neon and unnatural white lighting. Be aware that in all homages, many of the tropes and clichés carry over as well despite the show’s genre mixing.
Stranger Things season 1 is a promising start to what I hope will be an improving television series. The story and characters are top notch and if you love science fiction from the 1980s this is a definite must-watch. The pacing and writing can be a bit clumsy, the villains are slightly generic, but all this is made up for by the 110 percent given by mostly all the actors involved. I hope season 2 will be given more breathing room and higher production budget, as this show has the makings of a potential classic. However, as it is right now, I say it’s still a fantastic show and you should hop on the couch at your nearest convenience and give it a watch.