Geeklings, this has kind of been a weird summer for me. I don’t say that in the regard that I’m having a lousy summer, quite the contrary actually. Yet, from a binge watching standpoint this summer hasn’t really taken off. You see, each summer I binge at least two shows but usually one really, really heavily. Last summer was The Flash (yessssssssss I was very late to the dance on that one. Insert bashful emoji here) and man did that just consume me. I’m talking binge junkie status, like I would get itchy if I went too long without watching (not really cause that’s kind of weird). Up until last Friday I haven’t had that. I’ve been kind of listless trying to figure out what I should be watching… and then Stranger Things happened.
I remember a couple of months ago when that trailer dropped and being like, “What. Is. This.” I’m notorious for seeing trailers of things that interest me and then texting them to my friends. It’s my way of saying share in this awesome splendor with me. I like to think of myself as my circle of friend’s ambassador of geek… oooooh, sounds like I need a business card update. Everyone responded accordingly, that they were interested or it looked good and then… I totally forgot about the show. Not immediately, I had that good trailer glow for a day or two, but then the world provided more geekiness and it slipped from memory.
I was still going through my “woe is me, I can’t figure out what to watch” when I went on Faceyspace to see a new trailer for Stranger Things reminding me it was coming out. Immediately I got excited as I recalled my original viewing of the trailer. Finally I had something to watch. I found the new trailer on YouTube, texted it to my friends, with one comment, “binge party”. In return I got… mild interest. No one seemed like they wanted to partake in what was sure to be an awesome binge party, and we all know the key to a stellar binge party are the snacks and I believe in good snacks Geeklings. So like Pedro Cerrano from Major League, I just did it myself. Well, until my sister caught wind and then joined me in the glory of binging. Hiiiii Jen!
And I’m so glad I did. Hands down Stranger Things is the show of the summer. I say that with full knowledge of how excellent Mr. Robot is and how Preacher continues to escalate in awesomeness, but Stranger Things feels like a summer show where as the other two feel like good television programs that can exist during any season. Not sure if that makes sense, as I’m sure Stranger Things would still be an awesome show in the fall or winter, but its spirit just embodies the summer. Try and think of it in terms of movies. There is a clear distinction between regular movies and summer movies. You know a summer movie when you watch it, and you know a summer television show when you see it. Not the most helpful description, kind of like defining a word by using the word, but best I could do.
Stranger Things is clearly an homage to the stories of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg, and I don’t say that in a negative way. In fact I think its part of the shows charm. The Duffer Brothers (the show’s creators) are able to take all these various influences and still manage to produce a series that feels original and completely its own entity. At various different times Stranger Things can feel like a bit E.T., a bit Stand By Me, a bit Super 8, and with a dash of It, yet always feels like Stranger Things. I think you run into this issue whenever you have a really good coming of age story involving a group of kids and their bikes. Comparisons are going to happen but its one thing to pay tribute to something and another trying to be a carbon copy of your influences. Stranger Things clearly went the pay tribute route.
“But Kevin, what is the show about?” Well I’m glad you asked. I want to stay spoiler free here (my intention is to have you start watching as soon as you finish reading) but the gist of it is a group of friends part ways after playing a game of D&D, and one of them goes missing having been presumably kidnapped and/or eaten by some sort of monster. What ensues is a mother’s need to find her son, the loyalty of friendship, an evil science company buried deep within the woods (always need one of those), the arrival of a strange/mysterious girl who just may be a member of the X-Men, and tons and tons of 80’s nostalgia. That’s the best I can do without ruining things. Granted, there are numerous themes running rampant through the veins of the show (friendship, family, loyalty, redemption, love, and identity) but this is your structure. Oh, did I mention there’s a monster? Yeah cause every good coming of age story needs a monster, both metaphorically and literally. See what I did there? I call it building intrigue.
Stranger Things works so well because of its cast. You’re always taking a gamble when your story relies on child actors but the performances of Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, and Caleb McLaughlin are fantastic. At no point do you question the friendship between Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will as it always feels organic. This group has a clear chemistry with each other and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they forged a friendship off the screen. Then there’s Millie Bobby Brown’s portrayal of Eleven which in a lot of ways is the heart of the show. Brown is able to do so much with her lack of dialogue that you can’t help but have an overwhelming amount of feels for Eleven. She is hands down the backbone of the show and she knocks it out of the park.
As for our adult actors. Winona Ryder, who plays Joyce Byers, reminds us why we fell in love with her in the first place. Her performance of a grieving mother who refuses to believe that her child is actually gone is spellbinding and packed full of emotion. Stranger Things plays as a mini welcome back party to an actress who kind of slipped through the cracks over the course of time. Ryder’s counterpart here is David Harbour, who plays Jim Hopper, the town’s chief of police who is searching for redemption before he even becomes aware of it. Harbour, who has shown up all over the place, really settles in and flourishes in the role. I also would like to mention Natalia Dyer, as Nancy Wheeler, as she does a great job holding down the teenage angst role.
Stranger Things’s eight episodes fly by as you’re put in that moral dilemma, do I stay up all night watching or go to sleep because I have work in the morning? And while eight episodes feels short, it allows for tight story telling with no filler. Each episode is important to the overall narrative as the larger mystery unfolds before us and picks up the pace of the story until you’re left breathless, tearful, creeped out, gleeful, and wanting more come the finale. Which is where I’m at, Geeklings, needing a second season. I didn’t expect to become as emotionally invested in this show as I did. I didn’t expect to want to start re-watching the entire season as soon as it ended. I didn’t expect to be praying to the TV gods to make sure the show gets a second season. Then again… stranger things have happened. Take the time and relish in the summer’s best show. You can come back and thank me later.
Images from Netflix