In Review: Stranger Things ★★★☆☆
As soul crushing as it might be to hear something categorized this way, Netflix's recent series, Stranger Things is a true period drama based in a suburban Indiana town in the 1980's. Does this make me old now?! Youngsters Mike, Lucas, and Dustin stumble upon a shocking discovery while on a mission to find out what happened to their missing friend, Will. Meanwhile, Will's mother, brother, the town sheriff, a mysterious girl, and even Mike's sister and her boyfriend start to get tangled up in the strange anomalies going on around the neighborhood- and the in the concept of a near-by parallel universe...
Wow, Netflix has done it again with their original series! Or have they? In my usual fashion, I've just finished the first season of Stranger Things on a binge. And to completely honest, I think that's the best way to get the most out of this series, at least for the first season. If a show is too easy to binge on, it might mean that the natural pace of the story may be too slow to watch otherwise. Gone are the days when we had to wait an entire week to watch the next episode of our favorite television show and it seems that the production habits of Netflix and Hulu originals have lost that stride. Stranger Things, in particular, wouldn't be the least bit compelling to watch if there was a week in between each airing of the episodes.
But why is it so underwhelming? Well, for starters, there are way too many big ideas that just weren't fleshed out or truly made a part of the arch of the story or characters. There were very little undertones in the series as well. Overall, it felt like the writers and/or directors were just getting traction by the end of the production and then it just ended. It felt a little like someone learning how to drive. They'd press on the gas too hard and then stop too short at times. It was very off-putting for me. I will say the 80's motif wasn't suffocating, but was pleasantly there, accompanied by some random musical hits of the time. The writing is the biggest bummer for this first season. Some of the jokes in the dialogue are obtuse and just downright corny, and not in an amusing or endearing way. As far as the story is concerned, it could have really been tightened up. It was vague while somehow still being cliche.
The dysfunction of the writing was probably saved by the talent that was acquired for this show. Winona Ryder (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands) remained impassioned and a real anchor for the story. I'm not too sure it was the way her character, Joyce, was written. She has a certain magic and vulnerability that the show really needed in order to be successful, and I'm sure her cinematic experience in the realms of science fiction and fantasy really helped.
Unfortunately, the humanity was mostly pulled from the child actors who turned out to be the center of the show. I do feel that they tried to get too much out of the children, or relied too heavily on them and their performances which just seemed over-the-top. Although they were rascal boys, their characters lacked a charm and likeability, to no fault of the actors. I think they did their best with what they were given. Gaten Matarazzo, who plays Dustin in the series, is actually a theater actor and has appeared in the Broadway musical Les Misérables, and on the television show The Blacklist- and his talent really shines in this series. Bottom line is: If you're going to make a show about kids and teenagers for adults, make sure they reach you some way, whether it's the head or the heart.
Although the boys owned their rowdy quips and inventiveness in the series, the character of Eleven (played by British actress Millie Bobby Brown) really steals the show. She mysteriously shows up in the woods in town and quickly becomes a very integral part of the plot. Besides some very interesting talents she possesses, Eleven might also enslave your heart with her grace, beauty, and humility. At only 12, Brown most likely excites every viewer whenever she comes on screen with her presence and the surprisingly minute details she showcases in what creates and can destroy an 11 year old girl- all without barely speaking.
The special effects were solid. There a few odd choices, not creatively or aesthetically, but basic technical choices that really made some scenes stick in your mind for all the wrong reasons. But they're far and few between.
The absolute win for this series so far is the soundtrack and the main theme. Whenever the show truly starts up, it sends you to a mystical ultra-phonic vacation and visually brings you right back to memories of watching your UHF television set, fixing the tracking and signal the best you could, settling in with your jiffy pop and letting the screen do the rest. It's indescribable nostalgia and should lead them to win the Emmy. I'm serious. It's that good of an opener.
So what seemed like a phenomenon for everyone around me was just a big fat "eh." for me. Maybe I wanted too much from it because it had all the right conditions to make some real magic. It's worth the watch and I'd love to know what you think!