TV review: Stranger Things

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Creators: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer

Stars: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn WolfhardMillie Bobby BrownMatthew Modine

Verdict: Came out of nowhere type of fab

Where to start with Netflix’s latest attempt to put standard format television to shame; Stranger Things? This is an 80s set period peice; a supernatural, horror, drama, that is in turns spellbinding, terrifying, mystical, magical and heartbreaking. It’s well acted, well made, and deserves a place on your Netflix ‘To Watch’ list, except, like, bumped up to the top. And this is why-

Netflix’s Stranger Things has been almost universally marketed on the strength of 80s nostalgia even though that’s demonstrably the least interesting or important or even exciting thing about it. Now there is an element of the same sort of post-modern frisson that one would get in Tarantino movies like The Hateful Eight, or Inglourious Basterds. Now this element does have its own charm but there’s a sheer craftsmanship, quality of story telling and actual originality that gives the show it’s charm and following. 

There has been a trend in horror cinema recently of referencing John Carpenter uber-slasher Halloween, in films like It Follows , or The Guest. It’s drawn a lot of success and John Carpenter is clearly an influence on this show, but I’d suppose that a better reference would be something like The Thing, or one of his flawed but massively ambitious later era films like Prince of Darkness. In fact, just to nail on the head the references of the show, I pitch it to my friends, and I’m quite proud of this, as if Nic Winding Refn, (Drive, The Neon Demon), directed a Steven Spielberg, (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial , The BFG , Raiders of the Lost Ark ), written adaptation of a Stephen King horror novel like It.  

But I digress from what I really want to adulate about, which is thus;

Point 1 – The characters are fantastic. The Sheriff Hopper character starts off looking like a stock cliche and becomes so much more. His character is layered, proactive, deeply melancholic and really well written in terms of dialogue and back story. You WILL grow to love him over the course of the mini-series. Eleven has become a firm fan favourite and you can see why with her shaved head and total badassery; she is enigmatic, enticing, and endearing, and that’s just the beginning. Every character has their own little arc and development, even the arsehole boyfriend finds some redemption and complexity. The only issue being that this does mean that when certain comeuppances occur it does feel a tad disingenuous. 

Point 2 – the characters are realised by some extraordinary actors. If neither David Harbour nor Winona Ryder get Emmy nods come awards season I will scream, and not in the way the show would like. Matthew Modine’s villain is somehow incredibly threatening and sinister, but also sympathetic. The child actors are also universally great, I mean they do have their child actor moments, but they are child actors I think it’s forgivable given how fabulous they are most of the time. The role of Eleven especially must be really hard for such an inexperienced actress as Millie Bobby Brown to pull off but she does it with aplomb. Even Will, the missing boy, is really well acted and he’s hardly in it

Point 3 – the story is completely unpredictable and goes in directions that you’d never predict, they find a way to end every episode on a cliff hanger and still have a consistent narrative. I’m trying to tell you as little as possible because you shouldn’t know these things, to enjoy it fully. It is that type of show. 

Point 4 – The craftsmanship is extraordinary. I checked the time the show won me over, and it was exactly 5 minutes in. Whilst the likeability of the child characters are the real cause of this you can put the extraordinary cinematography and score there too. Style is written off a lot as frivolous and a luxury, but the point of them is to aid the story telling and that they do perfectly in Stranger Things. The design of the supernatural elements is also really fleshy, and actually gross and it’s really hard to make something gross and disturbing without falling into exploitation. The monster does reference the really adult imagery of Alien, and possibly to the show’s detriment visits it upon a child without fully understanding the implications of that, but the ubertexts for me are a mix of The Thing, and the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth

My only nonmentioned real flaw, is that there was good episode and a half where I found myself skipping scenes with one of the characters, but that ended. Despite all the mention of references not only in this review but others it would be easy to miss just how much of an original, almost auterial stamp the Duffer Brothers have put on Stranger Things. It can join the ranks of House of CardsPreacher, and Mr. Robot in the ranks of streaming TV shows that are completely unlike anything on standard television except for maybe Hannibal, except that’s been cancelled. And you wonder why television is loosing viewers like America’s loosing sense. Who am I kidding America never made sense. 

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