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For this edition of Rif’s Random Reviews, I’ll be talking about the Netflix exclusive series Stranger Things.
I’ve heard nothing but good things about this show, from the storyline to the acting, Stranger Things has been praised on all fronts. I’ve just finished watching all eight episodes, and I’m here to share my thoughts on the series. This does mean that spoilers will be present so stop reading now if you plan on watching the show.
Created and directed by the Duffer Brothers, Stranger Things is set in 1984 and tells the story about a young boy named Will who goes missing on the way home from his friend’s house. His disappearance sends shockwaves across the quiet town of Hawkins. His mother, a police chief, and his group of friends set out to investigate his disappearance. As they get deeper into the investigation, they come across a girl named ‘11’, and some strange things begin to occur in the town.
As I say, I’ve heard nothing but positive things about this show, and that’s what convinced me to sign up to Netflix (take advantage of that free month trial period) and give this show a viewing. Is it any good? It’s brilliant.
Stranger Things is a breath of fresh air and is well worth your time.
How this show is a Netflix exclusive and not on cable television is beyond me.
The first thing that strikes me the most about Stranger Things is how authentic it is towards the 1980’s. The Show’s intro, the soundtrack (there’s a really beautiful cover of David Bowie’s Heroes in episode 3), the fashion. The Duffer Brothers have really gone above and beyond with the source material in order to make you feel as though you’ve been transported back in time to the 80’s. There’ve been other shows set in the 80’s, but Stranger Things goes that extra mile to really recapture the feel of that decade.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that this show is very much inspired by the films and literature of the 1980’s. You’ve got elements of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and John Carpenter, all mixed together to create this show. It’s clear that the Duffer Brothers are fans of this stuff and were inspired by their works.
The acting is first class. I can’t praise it enough. The three kids (played by Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo, and Finn Wolfhard) were gold. They were so funny and so likeable. They all came across as true friends, not actors playing roles. It worked. The biggest gripe I have regarding child performances in movies and television is that adults are writing the dialogue for them. It can be hard for an adult to put themselves into the mind of a child and come up with convincing sentences that a child would say. In this show, the child’s dialogue feels like something that a kid would say. It was perfect.
Winona Ryder plays Will’s mother, Joyce. Her performance was excellent. You really do feel for her and her grief for losing her son just beams across as genuine. There’s this one scene where she’s trying to buy a telephone on a two-week advance and it’s so heart-breaking to watch. As the show progresses, I became more and more concerned for her character. She’s pushed to the edge and is almost on the verge of a breakdown. She stops caring about the appearance of her house and her personal appearance as she only cares about trying to find her son.
She discovers that Will can communicate to her through the lights, so she buys all of these Christmas lights, in hope that she can make contact with her son. There’s this clever bit where she writes the alphabet on the wall and Will contacts her by spelling out the words he wants to use. Of course, Will can only communicate to his mother, and sometimes his friends, which makes people think that Joyce has lost her mind. You really want her to have her ‘I told you so’ moment and when she gets it it’s so satisfying.
I also enjoyed David Harbour as Chief Hopper. Hopper is one of those guys that’s been around the block a few times with a rough outlook on life. He often speaks in a one monotone voice and has a damaged past which helps him do well at his job. He slowly gets more and more obsessed with various possibilities of this boy’s disappearance with a local government agency with may be involved in some way. The grief of losing his daughter, which is told in a series of flashbacks, is added motivation for him to find Will. He takes it personally when the trail runs cold.
Jonathan, played by Charlie Heaton, is Will’s older brother. He’s the glue that keeps his mother’s sanity intact when things get too tough. He’s the stereotype 1980’s loner kid. He’s a reserved kid, someone that everyone looks down on. A bit like that lad from American Beauty. Natalia Dyer is Nancy, Mike’s older sister, is the all-American girl next door, who has her own problems when her best friend goes missing.
Randy Havens as Mr. Clarke was good. He’s the boy’s teacher and is like a father figure to them. He has a small role, which works, I hope to see him in the second season.
Saving the best till last, I honestly thought that Eleven stole the show. She was the best thing about this entire show. Eleven, played superbly by Millie Bobbie Brown, is a young girl with a shaved head and a damaged past. Like with Chief Hopper, her backstory to told through a series of flashbacks. She doesn’t speak much at first but develops her vocabulary as the season progresses. Eleven also processes some form of telekinesis which she uses to her advantage to stop government agents from kidnapping her and making the school bully pee his pants in front of the entire school.
Millie is very convincing in this role. There’s this scene where she’s walking around the house and she’s just fascinated by everything that she sees. Even something as trivial as turning on the television was an experience for her. It was like an adult performance squeezed into a child’s body. Her performance is Emmy worthy; she was that damn good.
The only criticism I can give to this show is that it felt like a mini remake of ET. There are moments that feel exactly like ET. For example, three kids hiding something in their basement that has weird powers, just like in ET. You’ve then all the kids, plus Eleven, escaping from the government agents, on their bikes, again, just like in ET. Finally, Eleven exploring an empty house, just like that in ET. You just see all of these connections that are hard to ignore. I like how they were paying tribute but it was almost a carbon copy.
Bottom line, Stranger Things is a solid show. It’s keeps you guessing at every turn, and leaves you hungry for more. Come to the final episode, all your questions will be answered and all the loose ends will be tied up.
I’m looking forward to season two, I’m looking forward to seeing these characters return because I just love their chemistry together, and I’m looking forward to seeing what other strange things go down in Hawkins.
Rating: ***** (Top of the pops)