Strange Times at Hawkins High

Can we talk about Stranger Things? If you haven’t at least heard of it by now, then welcome back to civilization Mr. Crusoe. If you haven’t yet seen it yet, then don’t worry too much; I won’t be dishing out any spoiler-ific details, but I would recommend that you view it before you continue simply because it is awesome! And it shows promise for the future, not just of its series and other Netflix originals, but for creative visual media in general.

First let me state that as much as I like it and despite it having inspired me to write this piece, Stranger Things is by no means the first show of its kind to exist and be impactful on the current state of film and television. By this I refer not to its specific aspects of horror, suspense, mystery, and 80s nostalgia, but to its presence on an instant streaming service as a piece of their creative programming. Netflix has been around for a while now, and has had great success with their original programming with titles like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black winning Emmys and contending for Golden Globes (the former has one a few). Comic book adaptations like Daredevil and Jessica Jones have also received acclaim thanks in part to the Marvel train running at full speed right now. There are no shortage of options to choose from on Netflix alone with over 50 original series. Of course, not all of them are truly original as some started elsewhere and were given new life on Netflix, like Arrested Development, but it goes to show that instant streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are on equal ground with – perhaps even with a leg up on – as television networks. Television shows have been getting better in the last 20 years thanks to a number of great writers, directors, actors, and producers all collaborating on what is best for the story. Some are better in a two-hour window, but some need more time to breathe and flesh out the characters and situations. The trend once was that when any of the aforementioned group made the switch from film to TV they’re credibility was shot and they were stuck with TV for the rest of their dwindling careers. Now, regardless of where you start, you can seamlessly transition between movie theater and living room TV and back again and everyone is happy… as long as the final work is good, that is.

Stranger Things is that good. It’s really good, both as an homage to an era of film and the era it grew from, and as its own take on classic ideas and situations. For me, it’s the first of Netflix’s original programming that is easily accessible for everyone. Okay, maybe everyone at least as old as the kids who drive much of the story as it is genuinely scary on a frequent basis. This is not to say that the other shows are not good – many clearly are award-worthy – but they are harder for anyone and everyone to turn their attention to. My cousin loves House of Cards, but he also used to work as a political campaign manager. Some of my friends simply adore the Marvel series, but they are extremely devoted to everything Marvel makes with a heightened opinion of it all. Many of the situations within series like Orange is the New BlackNarcos, and other crime-based dramas are too adult for even some adults, while the numerous kid shows are not adult enough. Stranger Things is not perfect for everyone, but it fits a wider range than most of Netflix’s programming, which has obviously done plenty fine transcending their respective niches.

Okay, now that we have some of why Stranger Things is so popular and why it is continuing the trend of top television, especially top television not being on television, let’s talk about the show itself. Not too much to spoil, mind you, but enough to say that it is clearly influenced by scores of films from the 1980s and some from the 70s like The ThingEvil Dead, and Jaws, and those are just some of the films that have posters featured in multiple shots throughout the series. Evidently, the Duffer brothers who created the series watched and paid attention to these films. You can feel the influence of filmmakers of that time, especially Spielberg in his youthful prime. The cold open of episode one culminates in a tense near reversal of the shed sequence in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Music is a huge factor too, with the lots of synthesizer-driven songs from pop rock to prog rock filling the moments we are not freaking out (and some that we are!), making it reminiscent of a John Carpenter film from the opening credits. Not to mention, The Clash play a pivotal role with their awesome anthem “Should I Stay or Should I Go”. Great, now I get to shudder and look over my shoulder whenever I listen to my music. Thanks a lot Duffers!

As good as the direction and recognizable influence of 80s-era filmmakers is, the actors and touches of that era are what really raise the show up from a decent spooky series to a must-see program. Everyone is excellent, but certain shout outs have to made for the following:

  • Winona Ryder who is at the best she’s been since the actual 1980s.
  • David Harbour who was my personal favorite character as Hopper the police chief. If you choose to see David Harbour act opposite a Joker this summer, pass on his bit role in Suicide Squad and check out his interactions with Dr. Brenner, played by Matthew Modine, the guy who played Private J.T. “Joker” Davis in Full Metal Jacket.
  • All the young actors – It may be a cop-out, but every one of the young actors did a marvelous job of playing people who embody an era they weren’t even alive for. From the toddler to the teens, they were all great, especially the boys.

If you want a little more detail on the series, well first, you know, watch it, but after you have, check out these videos. The first discusses how the show is a better 80s film than films of that time, and the second is a terrific comedy rap video about the unsung hero of the series. Be forewarned though that you definitely should watch the series first as the title is an inherent spoiler.

Thanks for reading! Now get watching if you haven’t already! If you have, then start petitioning for season 2 and recommend what I should watch in the meantime. As always, I can be reached for questions, comments, and show recs at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Return to this upside-down place next week, and remember to always take your chances with Fireball except at a family wedding.

Stay spooky,

Alex

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