“When a young boy vanishes, a small town uncovers a mystery involving secret experiments, terrifying supernatural forces, and one strange little girl.”
This is the premise of the Netflix series, Stranger Things, which just started streaming its 3rd season. At first glance, it sounds interesting but not terribly riveting. And, in truth, I really couldn’t understand the hoopla over it … until I binged watched Season 1 last week. Now, all I can say is “WOW!”
I was riveted by the storytelling, the acting, and yes, the scares – I can’t remember the last time I covered my eyes with my laced fingers while watching a TV show or a movie. Two hours later at a few minutes past midnight, I finally signed off for the night.
Stranger Things takes 80’s nostalgia and horror films to a new level. The characters are fully fleshed out with short flashbacks helping to illuminate their stories. The camerawork is super. The kids talk like kids. And “the monster” is barely seen. Beyond that, the series feeds my “grew up in front of a TV” viewing gestalt. It’s a bit like binge-eating popcorn. You can’t stop. You just keep going and going and going. (Truth be known, this is not my first binge: I watched all of Season 2 of The Santa Clarita Diet in one afternoon)
Part of the appeal is the casting, which is inspired. Winona Ryder, as the missing boy’s mother, is the perfect combination of concerned mom and manic mess. You can see how her character, Joyce Byers, was once lovely but has been worn down by life and raising two boys on her own. Still, she somehow musters enough fight to doggedly pursue finding and saving her youngest son. You want to root for her.
David Harbour plays Police Chief Jim Hopper, a hard-drinking and hard-smoking man haunted by a troubled past, who ends up being Joyce’s ally. He’s gruff and tough, but it’s evident there’s a lot of heart underneath.
As for the kids, they are remarkable. Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler), the ringleader of the AV club, is part “geeks rule” and part reluctant hero. Being on the edge of adulthood adds unexpected depth and complexity to his character. His cohorts, Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin) and Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas) are also terrific; weird but brave, funny, gawky, and utterly adolescent. And Noah Schnapp (Will), as the boy who disappears, is a study in fear.
But the real standout is Millie Bobby Brown as “El.” I’ve seen her on numerous talks shows, where she is smart, composed, and seemingly unfazed by all the media hype. On screen, she is simply amazing, alternating between waif-like and androgynous with near demon-like powers. She manages all of that using just a handful of words. I’m not the only one who thinks highly of her. Since the series debuted in 2016, she has earned two Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. And on April 20, 2018, Brown became the youngest person ever to be included on Time magazine’s list of the World’s 100 most influential people.
As for the creators of the series, the Duffer Brothers (twins Ross and Matt), say they were inspired by the movies they grew up with, like Jaws, Indiana Jones, and Gremlins. In fact, they shot their first film in 3rd grade. By high school, they had started creating horror films. And they cut their teeth in television with Wayward Pines, which they were hired to write. But selling Stranger Things proved almost impossible. Their pilot script was rejected by almost 20 networks. And then they pitched the series to Netflix, who bought the entire season in 24 hours. The Duffer’s had found their dream home; and audiences have found their dream series. The Stranger Things Facebook page has seven million “likes” and even more fans. Now, add one more to the list.
This weekend, I plan to watch Season 2. And, if this heat wave continues, I’ll watch Season 3 as well.
Top photo: Winona Ryder, Charlie Heaton, Natalia Dyer
Photo Credit: Curtis Baker/Netflix