Digital Streamside Report — Stranger Things

Thankfully, I didn’t get a black eye out of watching Netflix’s Stranger Things. But it was close…and worth it. In case you were wondering, it was not on account of neglecting my family. I’ll explain momentarily.

Stranger Things recently debuted on Netflix to much-deserved critical acclaim. A suspenseful fantasy-drama set in the 80s in suburban Indiana, the show clearly riffs on a number of elements seen in teen-culture flicks of that era, such as Breakfast Club. There’s the good-girl hanging out with the bad-boy, there’s a loner, there’s the out-of-touch parents.

Unlike Breakfast Club, Stranger Things also features things like a moral compass, monsters, parallel dimensions, and a government secret project along the lines of Half-Life’s Black Mesa. Not to mention a retro-synthesizer score in the opening credits that serves as an elegant portal to a more civilized age.

At the center of the story, there’s a group of young boys who play D&D, know a ton of Lord of the Rings trivia, and have clearly seen Return of the Jedi a thousand times. The child-actors do an excellent job conveying a believable, wide-eyed enthusiasm for the realm of science, and their adventurous quests in biking around the neighborhood unsupervised effectively articulate the heroic idealism, (im)maturity, insecurity, and body humor that comes with being 12-years old.

Now it is fair to say that there are certain predictable plot points and narrative elements that some critics might call really campy, or cheesy. But if campy, then Middle Earth camp, and if cheese, brie - really, really good brie. Amidst the naughtiness and adolescent immorality that comes with the older teenagers misbehaving (along with the broken homes), aannd the neighborhood shenanigans that come with paranormal adventure, there is a rather moving portrayal of the lengths to which parents will go on behalf of their children. Granted, one set of parents is shown to be completely out of touch (typical 80s movie theme), but other parents in the show step it up when things get really bizarre. One parent, in particular, illuminates that hopefully-never-to-be-discovered portion of parental imagination as to how crazy things might get if malicious beings threatened one’s own children.

Additionally, the place of friendship in light of terrifying peril, and more particularly, brotherhood among young boys, while a common motif, is portrayed quite well, and effectively developed as a theme over the course of the season. The story-elements of the traditional Western quest cycle, in which a previously unknown danger becomes apparent and must be fought by a band of misfits, resulting in both acts of self-sacrifice and personal growth, are eminently presented in Stranger Things.

The camera-work itself was really impressive, especially in respect to a number of the chase-scenes. The special-effects themselves were quite good, but the montage of scenes, and occasional blending of colors from one scene to the next were particularly striking. Stranger Things also succeeds in delivering a good number of jump-scenes: I can solemnly attest to this, as I haven’t been whacked across the face this hard by the Missus since M.Night Shyamalan was still good1. To her credit, the Missus was very apologetic, and she did continue to watch the whole first season with me - I did make sure to put both more space between us on the couch as the season continued. Extra pillows helped too.

So, if you are a child2 of the 80s, or early 90s, or you enjoy thrillers such as Signs, or fantasy films such as Pan’s Labyrinth, or TV shows such as the X-Files, this is probably your show. If either The Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time is your favorite fantasy series, check it out. Bask in the great visuals and retro techno-fantasy vibe of Stranger Things. Just put enough space on the couch between you and your loved ones when watching it.

1 Just to be clear, she only whacks me across the face when watching scary shows.

2 If you are just a child, don’t watch it. Your parents will be really upset at me.

Will Bertain