So, having railed on about remakes and reboots for the past few posts, perhaps it’s time I did a proper review, and in this case, a proper review about a new and original tv series. Kinda.
See, Stranger Things is it’s own new and unique story in the same way that something like Pacific Rim is new and unique, in that while it is it’s own story and not any kind of adaption, a good chunk of the tropes and plot devices used are things we’ve seen before, as the series has clearly taken a great deal of inspiration from older movies. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Stranger Things is not what one would consider a rip off, but rather a spiritual successor to the old eighties media it’s taken its inspiration from. Rather than stealing ideas and content, it’s celebrating them and presenting them in such a way that modern audiences can appreciate.
The show feels in many ways like some kind of strange hybrid of Twin Peaks and a Spielberg family movie from the eighties, with a dash of Aliens thrown in the mix. And yes, this is a case where a winning formula actually works.
The story centres around Will Byers, a boy who goes missing due to some kind of supernatural entity sneaking up on him in the night, and how the people around him attempt to figure out what caused his disappearance. Meanwhile, at the same time that this strange monstrous entity appears in the town of Hawkins, Indiana, so too does a strange girl with telekinetic powers, who goes by the name “Eleven”, and seems to have been some kind of government science experiment.
One of the key things that makes the show work, in my opinion, is that in spite of following several “lead” characters (namely Will’s friend Mike, Eleven, police chief Hopper, Will’s mother Joyce, and Mike’s sister Nancy), it does not fall in to the trap many other multiple-protagonist series have been victim to. That being having protagonists that just seem to drag the story along. At no point did I ever think “oh not X character again, go back to Y” when the scene switched to another protagonist. This is quite a rarity in my eyes. Even Game of Thrones, one of my personal favourite shows, can sometimes guilty of this. If you were to ask who my favourite Stranger Things character is, it’d be a tough one to answer.
Though it’d probably end up being Hopper.
The way in which the mystery unfolds is also fascinating. From the first episode, I was intrigued, and my attention was grabbed. In terms of what we do see, acknowledging that there will be a second season, I feel enough was revealed at the right pace. There are still some mysteries to be solved, but none that make me want to punch my tv yelling “Answer! Answer!” What we see of the Upside Down is fascinating visually and conceptually, and the fact that each character solves different parts of the mystery enhances this in their own way.
And, of course, let’s talk about the homages to old eighties media. The trio of boys (plus of course Eleven) that form one party of protagonists are likeable, surprisingly well acted, and feel very much like your typical group of adventurous urban youngsters from an eighties movie. The overall tone of a small town being struck by a tragedy that may involve supernatural elements feels a great deal like Twin Peaks, though this time focusing on government conspiracies as opposed to flat out mind screws.
Is the series entirely perfect? Not exactly. If I had some complaints, then for starters, I feel the design of the monster could have been improved. While the strange flower shaped mouth head is an interesting feature, the rest of it is just a lumpy grey humanoid body. On top of that, it really doesn’t make much for a villain when we discover it’s basically just a wild animal; though one could argue that the “bad men” of the government facility are the true villains of the piece.
As well as this, I do feel the need to mention this show does use one of my least favourite tropes, that being the “no good deed goes unpunished” trope. Two of the characters killed off, Barb and Benny, are both killed as a result of trying to do nice things (Barb being there for Nancy and trying to guide her on the right path, Benny trying to help a lost little girl). I realise that death does not only come for the wicked and leave the innocent behind, but these two are the only protagonist characters we get to know who are killed by the end of the series. Call it a personal annoyance, but in particular, I took some umbrage with Barb’s death, as she felt like the only sensible teenage character in the series, who actually went against the trope of, as Jonathan Byers points out, “rebelling by acting like virtually every other teenager out there”. All in all, she felt like a waste of a perfectly good character.
Finally, I would just like to bring up that this show does have one of the most overused tropes of them all, in the form of a love triangle, between Nancy, her boyfriend Steve, and Will’s brother Jonathan Byers. In the show’s defence, Nancy actually stays with Steve who, while a jerk at first, seems to realise the error of his ways towards the end and redeem himself. This was actually quite unexpected. The show seems to suggest she’ll end up with Jonathan, who while shown to be less of a jerk, does take creepy photos of people without their consent, even if he seems apologetic later. By having Nancy choose Steve (who, again, develops and redeems himself as a character), it felt like a surprising subversion of the “girl goes for the “nice guy” over the jerk”, which was a little refreshing.
Though the most refreshing option would have been her ending up with Barb.
All in all, in spite of some flaws, for a first season of a show, Stranger Things has definitely impressed me, and does feel like the modern day equivalent to Twin Peaks. One can only hope it does not suffer the same fate as TP’s second season.