Last summer, Netflix’s “Stranger Things” generated an incredible amount of buzz, and it immediately went on my “to watch” list. However, it landed in the middle of summer blockbuster season, and although I kept thinking, “I really need to make time to binge-watch this,” I kept putting it off. Well, this winter I finally sat down and watched it (by some miracle, I’d managed to avoid almost all spoilers). Now, I can’t believe I didn’t watch it sooner, and I can’t wait for season 2.
“Stranger Things” is set in a small town in Indiana during the 1980s and is about a group of boys — Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will — who love to ride around on their bikes and play Dungeons and Dragons. The show has a sort of “Super 8” vibe, though while I did love that movie, “Stranger Things” is even better. This quiet, sleepy town where nothing ever seems to happen is stunned by the shocking disappearance of Will one night. Police Chief Jim Hopper believes it’s a kidnapping or accident, but Will’s mother, Joyce, thinks something stranger and more sinister is going on. It becomes harder and harder to deny the paranormal events occurring in town, especially after Mike, Dustin and Lucas find a mysterious girl known only as “Eleven” who has unusual abilities and may know something about Will’s disappearance.
I feel like I’m one of the last people in the world to watch “Stranger Things” 😉 but I’ll try to keep this review spoiler-free because part of what makes this show so amazing is the suspense of not knowing what’s going on or what’s going to happen next. This is one of those shows where you’ll watch one episode and then immediately feel a need to watch another because you want to uncover more of the puzzle.
Netflix has really been knocking it out of the park with their original series, and “Stranger Things” is just as good as their Marvel shows (and maybe even better). I feel like “Stranger Things” is a really good showcase for the strength of the Netflix model. This is a quirky, spooky show that’s only eight episodes long; if it had landed on a traditional television network instead, the commercial breaks and the possible need to stretch the story out to more episodes would have completely thrown off the pacing and the magic of the narrative. Netflix seems like a company that’s willing to allow creative risks, and with shows like “Stranger Things,” that really pays off.
I loved the show’s Spielberg-ian feel and how they gradually reveal the conspiracy of what’s actually going on. They do a great job of building suspense and making the scares really count (I had to stop watching it late at night because I didn’t want to get nightmares!). I remember not liking one episode *quite* as much (I think it was episode 6?); there are a few events that happen that feel a little too convenient and took me out of the narrative for a bit. However, overall this show clips along at a great pace and keeps you going to the finish.
A lot of this show is riding on the strength of the young actors portraying Eleven, Mike, and the rest of the gang, and I really enjoyed all those performances. They weren’t too precocious and acted like real kids would. I liked seeing the power of their friendship and how they refused to give up searching for their friend even when it seemed impossible that they’d get him back. I also thought Winona Ryder was great as Will’s mother, Joyce Byers; she really captures the character’s sense of panic at losing her son and the desperate hope that she’ll find him again.
I’d probably better quit writing at this point because I’m really tempted to start veering into spoiler territory, and like I mentioned before, this show is definitely better the less you know going in. I’m really curious to see where the show goes in its second season; although the last episode of season 1 ties up several plotlines, it looks like all the secrets haven’t been revealed yet.