Facebook feeds, Twitter posts, Reddit, a 95% overall Rotten Tomato’s score and just about every entertainment news outlet declares Netflix original series, “Stranger Things”, a massive hit. And what’s not to like? The entire series is like a bubbling cauldron of nostalgic stew. Starting with your base ingredient of the Steve’s, Spielberg and King, add a dollop of Carpenter, mix in some Reiner for good measure and you got yourself a monster show. Like, literally. There’s a giant monster in it.
The plot center’s around the disappearance of a boy in small town, Indiana. When his best friends, a gnarly band of misfits, go out in search of him, they stumble upon a strange, semi-mute girl, with telekinetic abilities. Que the mad scientists, government cover-ups, more disappearances and you get the idea.
Though Stranger Things is listed as an original series, there’s nothing truly original about it, save for the soundtrack. Which really is quite good. Created, written and directed by Matt and Ross Duffer (aka the Duffer Brothers), Stranger Things, is a well done hommage to 80’s genre films that were, frankly, done better. Too harsh? Alright, raise your hand if you would trade films like, “The Goonies”, “ET”, “Stand By Me”, “The Thing”, “Poltergeist” or anything from that 80’s wheelhouse, for Stranger Things. I know I wouldn’t, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the series anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, Stranger Things, is a lot of fun to watch and get swept away in. And as a fellow Champan University alum, I'm super proud of the Duffer's. They made all the right moves and it’s paid off. Season two is already a go!
But let's not wax poetic here, the 80's were somewhat regrettable, yet they undeniably had those unforgettable coming of age films that all knew what the key ingredient to making those films pure magic. Casting. Back then, director’s found the right kids for the right films and today we can’t imagine those films without them. It’s why remakes are soooooo painful. I never wanted to see a young, Shia LaBeouf, try and pull off a, Teddy Duchamp, or Zac Efron, channel his inner Goonie. Hard pass! Thankfully, the Duffer’s understood that as well and cast their show accordingly.
Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin Henderson) and Caleb McLaughlin make up the trio of friends looking for the missing kid, Will Byers, played by Noah Schnapp. The success of the show rested mostly on these, fairly unknown actors and for the most part, they pulled it off. Lending her 80’s street cred playing Will's mom, Joyce Byers is, Winona Ryder. She gave me panic, horror, desperation and determination, but I’m not totally convinced she gave me a mother. I’m excited that a series, based in horror, has given her the platform in which to show audiences another side of Ryder’s talent that’s not all wrapped up in angst, neurosis, creep, or ingénue. Joyce Byers is not a role audiences have seen Ryder play before, so it can be a bit jarring for those who essentially got through their teens and early twenties watching her films.
Right on schedule, I quite enjoyed the character of, Jonathan Byers, played by Charlie Heaton, who totally has that young Johnny Depp, sensitive outsider thing going strong. And yeah, I dug it. Finally, the lynch pin of the series was the casting of telekinetic the girl on the lamb, Eleven. The Duffer’s found their Eleven in, Millie Bobby Brown. With very limited dialog, there was a lot riding on Brown's performance. Literally, the resident freak, Brown quietly portrayed her character's distrust of people, her sometimes alienating fear of discovery, her ignorance of all things childish all while hesitantly embarking on her own journey of self actualization. And here’s the good news, girlfriend did it!
Expect to be delighted by some new and some very familiar faces throughout the series. Depending on your age, Stranger Things, may be a really nice nostalgic ride into the past, or a fun glimpse into what it was like growing up in the 80’s. Either way, viewers don’t have a thing to lose!