When one of my three followers recently suggested I check out a new streaming television series on Netflix called Stranger Things, my first response was, “No thanks, I have very little interest in watching Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus provide fashion tips to the general population for more than one second, let alone one whole season.” After the dead silence passed for roughly 30 seconds, the fellow Outlaw provided a quick synopsis of the eight episode series as a suspenseful and scary nostalgia trip set in the 80’s.
The key words of “80’s” and “nostalgia” grabbed my attention almost as quickly as the words “topless” and “bar”. Seeing as this fellow Outlaw (as do my other two readers) have a pretty good grasp on the style of entertainment I enjoy partaking in most, I trusted the recommendation enough to dive head first into the pool sans my Finding Nemo water wings.
Minus the possible exceptions of the first seasons of LOST and The Walking Dead, I’ve never binge watched a show faster than I have Stranger Things. I managed to consume the eight 1-hour episodes in less than two days, and that was only because my I still require sleep and a steady paycheck to survive. Were it not for those two things, I would have been through that sucker quicker than it would have taken me find a Tinder match at the Olympic Village in Rio.
Without spoiling anything (nothing important anyway), the show revolves around four young middle school aged friends whom have a penchant for the role-playing game and girl repellent known as dungeons and dragons. When strange things (hence the title) start happening in their little town of Hawkins Indiana, the youngsters, with the help of their horny teenage siblings and the substance abusing town sheriff, all attempt to figure out what’s going on before lives are lost.
If I had to describe the series in a nutshell (look at me, I’m typing in a nutshell!), I would say take one part Goonies, another part Stand By Me, pour in three cups of Super 8, add a dash of X-Files, a pinch of Poltergeist, and have Stephen King blend it up with a whisk from the 80’s. As for my own unbiased (and unsought) opinion, here is a quick spoiler free breakdown with an overview of my thoughts on season one.
- The Cast –
From the down-and-out sheriff (David Harbour) to the Chunk-like youngster with a keen focus on staying nourished (Gaten Matarazzo) the actors chosen seemed tailor-made for their roles. For the most part, (see below) the performances were also top notch, especially the one delivered by Millie Bobby Brown – no relation to Bobby Brown – whom plays the mysterious “Eleven”.
- The Suspense –
If you have any finger nails left at the end of watching all eight episodes, you are a braver soul than I. Not since the days of watching The first few seasons of X-Files back in high school have I burrowed my head under the safety of my pillow while watching TV. There are a few heap scares, but much of the tension comes compliments of the storytelling, visuals, and intense character interactions.
- The Effects –
In an entertainment world where CGI is now a crutch and an easy out in creating a complicated visual, it’s always a welcome surprise when practical effects are used, in turn providing a more realistic optical. As J.J. Abrams did for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Duffer brothers successfully did for Stranger Things to great… wait for it… effect.
- The Performances –
Despite nailing the casting, not all was pleasing to the Outlaws eyes and ears in the acting department. My biggest nitpick was with the anxious mother of a child gone missing, played by Winona Ryder. At first, the neuroticism of Ryder’s character seems appropriate given her circumstances, however my sympathy quickly turned into annoyance when the demeanor and shrill tone of the character’s vice never seemed to alter in the slightest over the course of eight episodes. It made her character a bit too one-note for me to identify with. I was also not hot on the other one-note stubborness displayed by Caleb McLaughlin whom played the always argumentative Lucas. I get he was supposed to come across as the more level-headed of the bunch, but the kid pretty much put up and argument about everything. With friends like him, who needs the debate club.
- The Humor –
I’m probably going to get flak for this one (but at this point, It’s hard to lose readers when you don’t have any), but I found the humor to fall a bit flat for my liking. Granted, this isn’t a comedy, and I wasn’t expecting over the top laughs. Nevertheless, most of the attempts at humor seemed forced or came across too cutesy, resulting in more smiles than laughs. This may have had to do with the choice to reply on the young boys to supply most of the films lighter moments, and the delivery combined with the timing felt off for some reason. For my money, some of the most humorous lines were delivered by Ryder and Harbor.
Despite those few shortcomings, the Outlaw thoroughly enjoyed devoting the better part of a two day time span to absorbing the first installment of the series, and then subsequently reading all he could about it on the interwebs. I say first installment, because based on the ratings and positive response to the initial offering, it looks as though Netflix has all but officially signed on the dotted line for a second helping of the surprise breakout show. Fortunately, since I caught the show fairly quickly upon it’s release and the initial recommendation made (see above) was not overly hyped, I hadn’t been bludgeoned by massive hype. For that reason alone, I feel like I took to the series more so because it came out of left field to entertain me in a way I hadn’t expected without any type of expectations.
Having successfully mixed 80’s nostalgia with an excellent cast, a creepy story concept, a world where there are two more questions for every answer, and a willingness to use practical effects, Stranger Things has turned the world of serial streaming shows upside-down… literally.