Stranger Things

Summer’s “Stranger Things” Should Stick Around

In just one moment, my carefully organized, meticulously timed television-watching schedule was turned upside down.

With the fourth season of Orange is the New Black untouched, half a season of the new AMC show Preacher on my DVR, and the entire series of Gilmore Girls that has been in my watchlist for as long as I can remember, and more, I wasn’t looking for anything new. Then there was Stranger Things.

Despite a backlog of things to watch, it became almost impossible to ignore the buzz around Netflix’s new original series. Articles popped up all over, exclamations of its greatness flooded social media, and it seemed that everywhere I turned, someone was raving about this unexpected summer hit. Who was I, a mere human trying to keep up with the best of what television has to offer, to ignore it? And thankfully I did not, since it ended up being one of the most fun and satisfying shows of the season.

Stranger Things, created, written, and sometimes directed by brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, is a summer delight that should not be forgotten even though classes are back in session and it is no longer the trending topic. It has all the mystery, suspense, scares, and unexpected fun that one could enjoy during not only the warm summer nights, but also during lazy fall afternoons.

In the small town of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983, things are predictable and tame. But when local boy Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), a geeky kid who plays Dungeons and Dragons all day with his three best friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), things get strange, for lack of a better word. Joyce, the boy’s anxiety-ridden mother (Winona Ryder), Will’s three friends, and Hawkin’s chief of police, Jim Hopper (David Harbour) attempt to forge their own investigations into Will’s disappearance, with each beginning to unravel the mysteries behind a shady government laboratory in town, a quiet, on-the-run little girl that appears in the woods, and much more.

One may find the slightly clichéd story to be an immediate turnoff, which is understandable. A nostalgia-heavy story set in a small town with some mysterious forces at work isn’t exactly groundbreaking television. This show, though, is endearingly dedicated to portraying the 80s setting perfectly, with some of the directing techniques making the show seem straight out of a cheesy, old-school monster movie. Everything about these elements, from its well-used soundtrack to its various pop culture references, is what makes it so enjoyable to watch. You feel like you’re a kid again watching E.T. for the first time in your living room, or hiding under a blanket watching a bad horror film. You not only have chills running down your spine, but also a sneaky smile spread across your face thanks to the thrill of it all. Stranger Things is also refreshingly funny, and not at all cynical. The show wears its comedy and innocence on its sleeve. The children are intelligent, loving, and actually helpful when it comes to cracking open this case. From their nerdy science teacher to the gruff Chief Hopper, all the adults on the show truly care about not only the three friends on a mission, but also about Will Byers himself. The show is as touching and emotional as it is creepy and foreboding.

The Duffer brothers, directors of the 2015 horror film Hidden and writers on FOX’s forgotten science fiction venture Wayward Pines, know how to pace the show perfectly.  They found a great balance between slowing the story down to introduce Hawkins and its many interesting individuals, and when to bring the plot back raring to go when the audience might start to fade. At just eight episodes, all clocking in at less than one hour, it almost seems like Stranger Things was designed to be binged. The show takes its time in the beginning – sometimes a little awkwardly. The audience immediately jumps into the stories of the our most compelling characters: Joyce, Will’s friends, Chief Hopper, the strange young girl, Eleven, and Nancy Wheeler, a teenage girl who is afraid that the boy she’s dating is just a sleaze. Nancy is not an immediately captivating character, and her story just seems out of place and dull in comparison to what the rest of the series is offering. While it does pay off in the end, and it does exemplify how boring and familiar the lives of some of Hawkin’s townspeople are, it can be a slog to get through.

The most impressive and compelling part of Stranger Things lies in its characters and the actors portraying them. The series boasts the return of Ryder, an 80s pop culture icon in her own right. As the anxious and frenetic mother who is always one step away from insanity at any moment, Ryder is as impressive as ever. You can’t always relate to her, but you absolutely feel for her as she desperately clings to any trace of her son. While Ryder may be the star, it’s the newcomers who steal the show. The chemistry of Will’s friends, Wolfhard, Matarazzo, and McLaughlin, is excellent, and feel the love for each other and their missing best friend. The kids never become obnoxious or annoying throughout the show and are just as fascinating to watch as the adult characters. The standout is Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven, a girl with a mysterious past and power, that might just be the key to finding Will. She balances the dramatic elements of the show and the comedic bits perfectly, and has the poise of an actress well beyond her twelve years. She’s truly a revelation, and you should expect to see more and more of her very soon.

In the end, Stranger Things did irrevocably ruin my television schedule for the summer. But it did end up being the most unexpected treat of the summer, and should surely be enjoyed by all throughout the year, and for years to come.