Aug 5, 2016

[TV] Stranger Things: Season 1

The 1980's has become quite the gold mind of nostalgia exploitation, especially in the entertainment industry. And I can't really blame them - that generation of kids is all grown up and still falls near that key age demographic of working folks with some money on the side that can be spent on other things beyond base necessities. And thus it only makes sense to keep going back to this period and to see what sticks.

Thankfully, Stranger Things is a heck of a lot more than your typical 1980's nostalgia trip. It's a rather serious piece of storytelling with a gripping core narrative, great characters and all that good stuff. But yes, it is also a clear homage to the 1980's and not just the time period but even the sort of stories and movies that defined the era.

There's a lot things in this series that will seem strangely familiar to folks to actually lived during that time period. You'll see and hear things that give you a bit of deja vu and fee like something you've seen and yet you also know it's completely different. And how this plays out makes for one memorable television experience.

Synopsis: Stranger Things is a Netflix science fiction series created by the Duffer Brothers (Matt and Ross). The first season only runs for eight episodes.

The story begins with a Dungeons & Dragons game among four friends - Mike (Finn Wolfhand), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp). After a late end to the session, all four make their way home but Will encounters something and disappears. That leaves his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) to panic over his disappearance and try to find him despite the slow pace of things under police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour). There's also the matter of a young girl later named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) who is on the run from mysterious science-type individuals. She encounters are little core group and they take her in with some misgivings as they conduct their own investigation into the disappearance of their friend Will.

What I Liked: There is way too much good stuff in this series that I don't know where to begin.. The overall story was great and it worked well with the relatively shorter season length of eight episodes. The acting was great for our core cast of young actors and of course for the frazzled mother Winona Ryder. The series gets legitimately scary more than once and it's more because of dramatic tension and build-up and not silly jump scares and such.

The core of what makes this series works boils down to our heroes Mike, Dustin, Lucas and eventually Eleven. These modern-day Goonies face off against a number of challenges and do their best to stay motivated despite seemingly impossible odds. Plus Dustin is charming as heck with some of the wittiest, most insightful dialog we've seen not just for a young actor but for any character in a series of this nature. Young eleven also stands out for her sheer intensity and her commitment to a rather challenging role.

But we can't talk about Stranger Things and not acknowledge how the series is a big love story to all the good stuff of the 1980's. Like I said, the kids are like the Goonies but in some ways Eleven almost feels like E.T. at some points. Their harrowing experience of losing their friend and journeying to find him is almost like a Stand by Me sort of tale but not. So it's sort of like what we experienced in Super 8, but drawn across a television season.

What Could Have Been Better: The sub-plot with Mike's sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) was at first an odd side-plot but admittedly it grew into something brilliant over time. We all loved Barb (Shannon Purser) and everyone wanted more time for her but then the narrative had other ideas. And Matthew Modine's character as Dr. Martin Brenner probably could have been fleshed out a bit more beyond ominous science type figure but that's life.

I didn't necessarily hate the length of the series but of course part of me wished the story ran on a little longer if only to spend more time with the characters, but then I don't know at what point would that dilute the impact of the story. It's a tricky point of contention.

TL;DR: Stranger Things is a brilliant storytelling experience and a great moment in television, or in this case in web television or something and it is not to be missed. The joy and fright of the series is not just hype - it's the real deal and you're selling yourself short by not watching it. Thus the season gets a great 5 Dustinisms out of a possible 5.


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