Unless you’ve been living under a rock or you don’t stream Netflix you’ve probably heard of or watched the new series Stranger Things. It’s one of those shows that’s seemed to have captured and encapsulated a chunk of time that so many folks my age(I’m 42, btw) hold close to us and romanticize a bit. Living in it wasn’t much, but looking back on the early 80s there was a lot to appreciate. The video games, the toys, the movies, the music(some of it, anyways), and the Saturday morning cartoons. It was a time when a kid flick still had a sense of danger to it. There were “shits”, “damns”, and “son of a bitches” peppered throughout generously. There was also genuine scares, humor, heart, creepiness, and you connected to the characters. I mean, Poltergeist was rated PG for God’s sake. That movie scared adults, let alone traumatizing an entire generation of children and putting a lifelong fear of clown dolls in them. There was the sense that things weren’t dumbed down in order to get butts in theater seats. Entertainment wasn’t so homogenized. You had names like Spielberg, Lucas, Donner, Hooper, Dante, Hughes, and Zemeckis making real cinema that parents could take their kids to. Sure there was plenty of schlock in the 80s as well; for every Goonies there was 5 D.A.R.Y.L.s or The Dirt Bike Kids.
Point is, I’m not fetishizing the 80s as much as I’m pointing out there was a certain tone to entertainment back then that you just don’t have today. The Duffer Bros’ Stranger Things has recaptured that tone beautifully. It pays homage to films like E.T., The Goonies, and Stephen King novels while creating a whole new world. One where kids ride BMX bikes, play Dungeons & Dragons, and listen to The Clash, all the while dealing with real life issues like being raised by a single mom, personal tragedy, bullies, and peer pressure. That’s what makes Stranger Things so appealing. They mix popcorn fare with darker tones. There’s scenes that seem to take inspiration from those films mentioned but flips them around and adds a modern spin. While the twin Duffer Brothers were born in 1984(a year after the show takes place), they’ve obviously grown up on the films I grew up on as well. Where I saw most of these films in the theater with my parents, the Duffers probably grew up watching VHS copies of them, or on cable TV. I guess it doesn’t matter how you take the information in, but how you process it. These two North Carolina natives have processed the 80s quite nicely.
I won’t go into the show’s story details. I’ll just say that it hit deep with me. Watching Stranger Things was like going into the wayback machine and being a 10 year old again. You’re invested in these kids, which they’re all very likable. You were one of those kids growing up, and you dealt with their problems. You had their eccentricities and felt their awkwardness. But you also felt their strength in knowing who they were. There was no confusion with these kids as to what they loved and the friendship between them. Then throw in a heaping portion of the fantastical, macabre, sci fi, and horror and look out. The casting is perfect on every level. Matthew Modine, Winona Ryder, David Harbour, the teens and pre-teens,…everyone hit all the right notes.
I think the best thing about this show was binge watching it with my 11-year old son. We both were instantly hooked. There wasn’t that feeling that he was getting it on one level and I was getting it on another. We were both locked in at the same level, soaking up the vibes the Duffer Bros were giving us. We were both invested in the story, the characters, the mood, the eeriness, and the music. My son and I have bonded over sci fi and horror over the last couple of years; revisiting films from my pre-teen years while digging into newer stuff that’s worth digging into. Stranger Things feels like that sort of show that we’ll keep revisiting for years to come.
Musically, this show is on another level. First, the songs they used throughout were unreal. The Clash, Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, The Bangles; and that’s not even mentioning all the original music. The original score was done by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein who are in the Austin heavy synth band S U R V I V E. They’ve captured that Carpenter/Tangerine Dream vibe to a tee. While not overshadowing what’s happening on the screen, their music stands out on its own.
Okay, so there’s a million or so articles out there in the interweb singing the praises of Stranger Things. I guess I just had to add one more. I’ve been mulling this show over and over in my head since I watched it a couple of weekends ago and felt the need to gush over it. It’s not often a show captures my head and heart like this one has. And when I can share that love with my son, well that makes it all that more special to me. If you haven’t watched it, make some time and do so. Step away from the hate cycle going on in the news regarding the Trump madness and Clinton regurgitation and lose yourself in a few hours of nostalgia, humor, heart, and intrigue.
Oh, there will be a season 2. So there’s something to look forward. Oh yes there is.