Netflix has a winner in its new original Stranger Things, an eight-hour sci-fi/horror show with Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, and Millie Bobby Brown. I’d like to list all of actors, because everyone was fantastic. I want to talk about it here, but I can’t avoid spoilers.
Yes, there’s a bit of an E.T. vibe because we have boys on bikes and bad government agents, agents so bad the public affairs guy at the U.S. Dept. of Energy felt compelled to say, “Whoa! I like Stranger Things like all you guys. It’s a great show, but we do not experiment on people and hunt down monsters, okay? That’s NSA, not us. And Dr. Brenner doesn’t work with us anymore.”
You could say Eggos replace Reese’s Pieces, but the Duffer Brothers aren’t trying to remake E.T. They’re telling a good paranormal story. (By the way, E.T. could have been munching M&Ms, but someone at Mars said, “We know for a fact aliens do not like M&Ms, so the premise of this movie is wildly unrealistic. Hot babes like M&Ms. Why don’t you make a movie about them?”)
When asked about the parallels between Stranger Things and other sci-fi movies, like The Goonies and Close Encounters, co-creator Matt Duffer said,
When you get into the writers’ room and you’re working on individual episodes, actually very little time is spent referencing other movies. Mostly you’re just trying to tell the story, letting the characters guide where everything’s going. Otherwise it would just be a jumble and a mess. Someone sent me that Vimeo video that had our images side-by-side with [‘70s and ‘80s movies] and some of it was purposeful and some of it was not, which was really cool. And some of it I haven’t even seen.
Stranger Things is a good story. A small town boy disappears and his friends won’t sit still while the adults try to find him. They soon find a traumatized girl who can’t or won’t speak. Does she know anything about their friend? Meanwhile, details about the bizarre way the boy disappeared are beginning to spill out into his house. It can’t be all in his mother’s mind, can it?
A few days ago, we talked about stories that depict a supernatural world without balance. If there are horrific monsters out there, where are their supernatural predators? If they are apex predators who are at the top of the food chain as it were, what are their weaknesses? In the world of Stranger Things, we appear to be the balancing force, even though one of us has supernatural abilities. She’s still one of us and finds her motivation through the boys’ love and loyalty.
I have to say I love the upbeat qualities of the show. Steve begins as a self-centered jerk, and his friends are typical cruel bullies, but he can’t stay there. Even when he goes along with a revenge prank, he regrets it. And when everything comes to its bloody conclusion, the story doesn’t end with half a family dead and everyone in shock. It ends with Christmas.
The writers say some of this comes from the actors they found. Matt says, “Like Dustin, I don’t think we really understood who that character was. He started out more like a stereotypical nerd and then we met Gaten and we basically tailored the show to him.”
“I don’t think the story would have gone in the same direction that it did were it not for these characters that we had,” he said.
Update: The Crime Writers On podcast enthused about the series back on August 5, pointing out many parallels and criticisms with light spoilers.