Three of The Digital Fix’s writers bandied together to give their thoughts on the Netflix phenomenon that is Stranger Things.
Here at The Digital Fix, there is one show that has had a number of our writers talking over the last couple of weeks; new Netflix series Stranger Things. The brainchild of Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer (best known for writing and executive producing Wayward Pines) it is an eight-episode series steeped in 80’s nostalgia.
The plot follows the disappearance 12-year-old Will Byers on November 6, 1983 in the suburban town of Hawkins, Indiana, Will’s mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder) frantically tries to find Will aided by Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), while Will’s friends: Dustin, Mike, and Lucas discover a psychokinetic girl in the woods. As the mystery deepens, they learn about a sinister government agency and a portal to an alternate world, home to a terrifying monster that is trying to break through into their reality…
Stranger Things was rejected by at least 15 networks before the Duffer Brothers got the green light from Netflix. They were told to make it into a kids show or make it about Hopper investigating paranormal activity around town. They stuck to their guns and now the rest is history, with the show being critically well received and for many one of the TV highlights of 2016.
But what did our writers think? Rather than just review the show myself, I brought in a couple of fellow writers to get their thoughts. And here are our reviews…
Colin Polonowski (The Digital Fix Editor)
Netflix latest original series, the Duffer Brother’s Stranger Things, is also one of their best; a gripping, largely well written and brilliantly creepy homage to the best of Spielbergian cinema. Benefitting from a tight eight-episode run it’s a wonderfully self contained mini series that would have worked as a standalone if it a second season hadn’t been commissioned.
Set in 1980’s middle-America, Stranger Things tells the story of the mysterious disappearance of Will Byers; dealing both with what happened to him and the affect on his friends and family. Set against the backdrop of a secretive Government-run lab and the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, it captures the feel of eighties cinema taking in the likes of ET, The Goonies, Stand By Me and more recently, Super 8. Indeed, it’s peppered with homages and references from start to finish; from the obvious visual notes to almost direct character lifts.
Stranger Things does so much right – the monster is teased more than seen but is a palpable presence throughout. The child cast is also excellent with no glaring clunkers in terms of delivery or performance and Winona Ryder turns in a career-best performance. Millie Bobby Brown’s portrayal Eleven / El is outstanding – with so little to actually say, but lots to do, this central role could easily have been undercooked with a lesser actor.
The series remains gripping from start to finish with a largely satisfying conclusion.
It’s not ALL perfect though – firstly, the redemption of Nancy Wheeler’s (Natalia Dyer) love interest, Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) is trite and feels weak given his treatment of Nancy once he feels he’s been ditched; including some pretty nasty slut-shaming. It could be argued that this whole strand of story isn’t needed but I think it does add some depth of character, it’s just a shame that Keery’s character seems to flip within the space of one episode in order to make him seem more sympathetic. Also, the school bully, a 12 year-old happy to pull out a flick knife in order to force his target to commit suicide feels wrong; a clear homage to Kiefer Sutherland’s character in Stand By Me, he’s a character who seems so heavy handed in what is an otherwise beautifully nuanced story – is he needed? Maybe, but the juxtaposition between this young teen and the older Sutherland character is jarring.
For the most part though, this is first rate stuff. While we now know that a second season following the events of the first has been commissioned, it would have been nice to leave this as it is and maybe move onto another town as some sort of anthology series rather than dilute what we’ve already seen. Sometimes being left with a little bit of mystery and intrigue is a good thing.
Stephan Burn (TV Writer for The Digital Fix
Stranger Things very nearly didn’t happen; reportedly up to 20 TV networks said no, or would have wanted it to be reconfigured to be more of a kids TV show, or to drop the kids and have Chief Hopper investigate paranormal phenomena in the area. But the Duffer twins, alumni of writing for Wayward Pines, stuck to their guns and eventually found a home at the infamously creator-friendly Netflix. This has turned out to be quite the coup for the network as Stranger Things has very much taken over the conversation. The demographic of people who grew up on movies such as E.T., The Goonies and Stand By Me, and later TV shows such as The X Files has been this well catered to, homaging rather than pandering.
The casts are excellent throughout; and I say casts because until the finale each generation of town inhabitants inhabits their own world, investigates the strange goings-on separately for the their own reasons and in their own ways. This works really well, and allows an on-form Winona Ryder to not overpower the younger cast members, who spark well off each other. Chief among those is Finn Wolfhard as Mike, whose cheekbones recall a young Shelley Duvall; he manages to project just the right level of boyish intensity.
Overall, in amidst the science fiction plot, Stranger Things manages to project authenticity, and the audience roots for the characters, an easy emotional attachment is formed. This is definitely a show that deserves the second season that’s already been announced.
Baz Greenland (TV Editor at The Digital Fix)
Something about the show just clicked for me the moment I saw the trailer. The sense of horror, conspiracy and sci-fi nestled at the heart of suburbia, wrapped up in a bow of 80’s nostalgia, though of course that was exactly what the Duffer brothers intended. After the first episode, I described it as Twin Peaks meets The Goonies meets
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