By Jack Holmes
Ghostbusters, Jungle Book, Star Wars, Star Trek, Batman – there’s been a tidal wave of reboots, nostalgia and homage hitting Hollywood in the last year or two, but TV has largely managed to continue on its merry way. That is, until Netflix dares to produce Stranger Things, a TV series whose sole purpose seems to be honoring, recreating and gifting the best parts of 80s coming of age movies, along with a whole host of classic horror and sci-fi images, scenes and even shots to the modern day TV binger. On paper it seems designed to fail, but, surprisingly, it’s one of the perfectly imperfect seasons you’ll have the pleasure of watching in one sitting this year.
Stranger Things follows the disappearance of a young boy and the efforts of the local town, including his friends and family, to find him. The core plot isn’t anything particularly amazing; it largely borrows from one particular Spielberg classic, with aspects of other classic sci-fi and horror added for good measure. The sub plots can go from filler, to screen stealers. In moments for example, one particular love triangle seems like a carbon copy of a high school romance right up until the final episode, where the whole thing is flipped on its head and you’re left desperately craving a second season. It’s this aspect of storytelling that the creators of Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers, have exactly right. They may borrow largely from the best of the classics but they’re merged and retold in a way that feels fresh. Monsters are combinations of the worst parts of classic villains, the usual two dimensional teenagers and adults are written with far more depth and superpowers (yes, there are superpowers of a sort) are given original new life. One scene in particular, inspired by 2013’s Under The Skin, is so eerie it’s like you’re being introduced to the fun of sci-fi horror for the first time all over again.
The characters tend to fluctuate in the same way as the plots of the series do, one minute stealing a scene, the next feeling more like baggage. After the young boy disappears his friends discover a young girl who moves from being the most interesting part of the show, to just plain annoying, especially when she’s excessively vague for no apparent reason. Winona Ryder isn’t given much to play with as the mother of the missing child and sadly there’s only a certain amount of time that even she can keep an audience entertained by simple emotion alone.
Plot and characters, however, aren’t the reasons you’ll be sucked into Stranger Things; it’s the singular moments of pure adrenaline-fueled film fun that come along. A scene with Winona Ryder’s character desperately trying to stop a portal in her wall closing, blinking fairy lights spelling out messages sent from another dimension, the discovery of the fate of the missing boy. None of it is an entirely original concept, it’s all been done before, but the passion the Duffer Brothers have put into this eight hour season is infectiously fun.
If you like classic horror, sci-fi, 80s movies or just good TV, Stranger Things is a gem in the world of “meh” remakes and reboots that really only needs that first episode to pull you under.
Still not sold? Check out the trailer below.