REVIEW: Stranger Things – Season 1

***SPOILER-FREE REVIEW

1980’s nostalgia bounces off the screen in this surprisingly addictive Netflix Original.

“Have you seen Stranger Things yet? It’s amazing!”

I reckon I had about ten people tell me this, and I was getting to the point where I was going to totally ignore it out of sheer stubbornness. Thankfully, I chose to buy into the hype, and I’m very glad that I did.

Netflix has redefined television so much in recent years, that it feels repetitive to keep mentioning it. But a stand alone 8-episode show like this is surely a glimpse into the future of television, and what a wonderful future it’s looking to be.

On the surface, Stranger Things appears to be a ode to 80’s film and pop culture, and the show’s creators The Duffer Brothers (yes, that’s their real name) have credited Stephen King, Stephen Spielberg and John Carpenter as their primary influences, and you can also see touches of John Hughes and even the American Graffiti version of George Lucas in here. You don’t have to go too far into this series to see these influences at play, but a show can’t sustain a whole series on homage alone (This is not J.J. Abrams’ Super 8.) What it manages to do, is pay just enough respect to the era with it’s Walkie-Talkies, Mix tapes and The Clash, while bounding ahead with it’s own, unique and gripping tale.

The story begins in the small Indiana town of Hawkins, which is best described by Police Chief Hopper when he says “You wanna know the worst thing that’s ever happened here in the four years I’ve been working here? Do you wanna know the worst thing? It was when an owl attacked Eleanor Gillespie’s head because it thought that her hair was a nest.”  The action kicks off with the mysterious disappearance of 12-year-old Will Byers, which very quickly takes over from the owl attack as the worst thing to happen in the town. The intense opening scene quickly sets the tone for what is to follow.

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Image: Netflix

 

The nod to the eighties can also be seen in the casting, with Winona Ryder ably playing the role of Will’s hysterical mother Joyce, while Matthew Modine pops up as the cold, clinical ‘bad scientist guy.’ And while these are the two biggest names on the bill, it’s the incredible cast of child actors that make this series what it is. Will’s friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) take centre stage here, especially after Will meets up with a mysterious girl known only as ‘Eleven’ (Millie Bobby Brown, looking like a young Natalie Portman.) Just as a side note, I’d expect this to be merely the beginning for Millie, whose performance here is off the charts.

The rest of the large ensemble cast also deliver, especially the chain-smoking, alcoholic Police Chief Hopper (David Harbour), who may not be the massive asshole that he initially seems to be. He very quickly gets his police-groove on, and Harbour probably delivers one of the best ‘ass-kicking cop’ performances you are likely to see.

Part horror, part science fiction, part thriller and part supernatural adventure, Stranger Things is pure binge-worthy delight (I watched the first six episodes in one sitting, then the other two the next day), that gives you the same feeling as when you first saw The Goonies or The Lost Boys. I’ve read many complaints online about the show’s mythology not really standing up in the end, but I find that to be a very minor gripe, because this show isn’t about its mythology. It’s about friendship, teen love, childhood wonder and all of those things in the 1980’s that weren’t terrible.

The hype on this show is warranted. Get on it.

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Stranger Things
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Matt Caton

Matt is a freelance writer, content marketer, comedy geek and podcast evangelist

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