Stranger Things Review — Super 80s, Bro

Right down to getting a 90s star in the show…wait a minute.

Spring 2016 was kind of a shit season in terms of looking for anime to write about. Very little was actually good and most of the bad stuff was just utterly mediocre shit that isn’t even worth wasting words on. I mean what am I supposed to say about The Asterisk WarSakamoto desu gaAnd You Never Thought There Was A Girl OnlineBig Order? Oh wait, I actually do have quite a bit to say about Big Order due to it being so bad that it’s apparently considered one of the worst anime in years. But I think reviewing one legendary bad turd so soon after another is a bit tiresome. So let’s look to our good old friend, Netflix, and its “best television EVAR” output for something to talk about. What’s popular right now, buddy?

Hm? Strangers Things? Never heard of it before now. What’s it about? Winona Ryder’s comeback to a public audience you say? Come to think of, I haven’t seen much of her since the 90s ended. It’s getting critical acclaims from all across the net? IMDB’s ranking of it is almost as high as Game of Thrones? But seriously, what is the show about? A Spielberg throwback you say? So it’s like Super 8? Much better? Well I guess it’s worth a shot.

In all seriousness, I never even heard of Stranger Things until about a day before it got released, all the good reviews flooded the TV news, and every single one of my friends, co-workers, and my co-workers’ freinds asked me whether or not I’ve watched this show. And it’s true, I usually don’t keep up with what Netflix releases until they’re actually released, but apparently a lot of information about the show was kept under wraps until it pre-screened for the critics – probably because of the mystery aspect and how much that genre depends on keeping the viewer in the dark. Shortly after it came out though, Stranger Things became known as one of 2016’s best television series, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it topped most people’s lists given the rapidly increasing word of mouth spreading. At this point, if you haven’t heard of the show, let alone watched it, the only conclusion I can draw is that you’re being held in a maximum security prison on an island that’s run by seventeen-century Puritans that have recently undergone lobotomies.

Stranger Things is basically a nostalgic tribute to 80s Spielberg films like E.T. or Close Encounter of The Third Kind whilst incorporating Stephen King-style horror so that your kids can’t exactly watch the show without you providing moral support, but it plays to a wide audience on the whole so that those who grew up with Spielberg will love the nostalgia and kids of today who didn’t can learn to get fucked with for the first time and love it. The plot is centered on a young boy named Will Byers and his mysterious disappearance one night after a game of D&D, causing four groups of people with various connections to him to react in their own way and spin off their own separate storylines from said reaction that eventually come together when they get over the grief long enough to start communicating with each other.

There’s Will’s mother, whose name is Joyce but you’ll just be calling her Winona Ryder the whole time because of her unmistakable over-acting over her son’s disappearance and frenzied attempts to contact him from wherever he’s being held. There’s Jim Hopper, a local police chief as well as the only one on the force that’ll take the unusual circumstances regarding Will’s disappearance seriously due to something in his past that he regrets. There’s Jonathan Byers, Will’s brother who has social anxieties the same way Donald Trump has personality problems. And then there’s Will’s friends led by the barely related girl’s brother, Dustin – who’s basically every little nerd protagonist ever right down to discovering a mysterious girl that may or may not be connected to Will. It should also be noted that his group is the one that Goonies fans will latch onto the most.

Now whilst there’s no denying that the 80s are a large part of why Stranger Things exists, it can actually stand on its own fairly well without resorting to satire. There’s no attempt at post-modernism throughout the series, and a lot of the cinematography and special effects do a good job of capturing the horror atmosphere of that decade without making it feel dated in today’s world. According to a work colleague of mine who actually lived through that decade, this show captures the 80s more than That 70s Show mutilated the 70s, what with its numerous background items and clothing choices from that decade, right down to the actual glasses frames being something you wouldn’t see in today’s world. So if you’re one of those people who think the 80s was the best decade of all-time, please soundproof your room because I can hear your giggling all the way across multiple state borders.

At times, some of the uglier tropes of the 80s rear their heads like those godawful bullies that exist only to be assholes and get their comeuppance, but they’re not too much of an annoyance to be a deal breaker and one of them actually turns out alright, even if his development felt a little forced. But that might just be because he’s in Jonathan’s story, which is so full of the ugly side of 80s cliches that you could dump it all out the back and the resulting pile would easily come up to your second-story window. For the most part though, the show just exists to be fun decade-era camp. There’s nothing all that ground-breaking about what Stranger Things does and you can easily predict where the story will go aside from one or two surprises. Most of the jokes and dialogue are old-school as well and whilst they’re mostly genuine, I don’t think I ever laughed at anything the characters ever said or did. I mean Christ, how many times can you watch a bunch of boys getting freaked out over a girl changing clothes before you just accept it as a fact of life? And how many times can you watch a secret organization being the main antagonists in general?

But despite all that and the fact that I grew up in the 90s, I enjoyed Stranger Things. After all, its primary genre is horror, I am a horror fan, and I like it when you execute the campy scares well. The actual monster that makes up the meat of most of the show’s conflicts looks pretty damn legit, and whilst I never really feared for any of the main characters’ safety due to the fact that it was obvious something that something aiming for a Spielberg feel wasn’t going to kill these characters until at least the last episode, I was actually kind of spooked when the side characters started getting involved. I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say that I’m surprised Will was able to survive his situation for what has to be at least a week. That tale would probably have been a lot more interesting to watch than his older brother’s.

Having said all that, I think the finale is a bit too convenient in regards to tying everything up. Hell, the journey to that finale relies a bit too much on convenience as well. There’s a mysterious girl who has psychic powers in the show and even though it’s obvious that using them for long periods of time will drain her health, the number of reasons invented in order to prevent her from using them to get to the final destination in three episodes rather than eight gets really ridiculous at times. A lot of people have been complaining about how the Netflix model stretches a movie’s worth of material into three times the length it needs to be, and whilst I mostly ignore those comments because “no fucking duh, but I could say the same for every show. Hell, I say that about anime all the time”, but I think something is off when the moment the psychic girl finally gets in on the action, every single conflict gets dealt with in a timespan on par with the final robot fight in Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. And I still remember how quickly that fight went when Optimus Prime got new toys.

But it has been argued that these flaws are part of the show’s charms, and honestly they shouldn’t be a deal breaker by themselves whether you enjoy them or not. Basically, if you enjoy Spielberg films or good horror in general, then I can definitely recommend Stranger Things because it pulls off both sides fairly well without getting too caught up in nostalgia and actually creeping me out at points. I wouldn’t call it a great show – but then again I am hard to please. I’m the guy who only thought American Crime Story: The People v OJ Simpsons was alright because it was just every story about racism ever only with likable characters and one or two new angles to the topic. But if you were to ask someone else about that show, chances are their reaction to it would be like this:

Minor Quips

  • Still, American Crime Story was worth watching for Ross Kardashian alone.
  • In the 80s. Yes there’s so much there to see. In the 80s. Yes you will be very pleased (sung to the tune of The Village People’s “In the Navy”)

3 responses to “Stranger Things Review — Super 80s, Bro

  1. I really enjoyed Stranger Things (though it does kind of take a lot of the pleasure out of it when you realise the girl could have just wrapped everything up way back at the start). My friend and I did spend a lot of time linking events in the show to 80’s shows and making fun of various characters and the technology. Still, it was a good little bit of mystery/horror and had a few good jump scares and some great atmosphere. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It was a nice show, though the entire plot relies on lack of communication (understandable under the circumstances but still sort of a frustrating way to keep the story stalled) and lack of actually resolving things on El’s part. It’s also curious how completely unaffected the kids seemed at the end by all the death they witnessed at the telekinetic hands of their friend – all in self-defence, of course, but still, one would expect kids that age to be a bit more traumatised by the experience. And the shady organisation had rather vague motives – yeah, they wanted to cover it all up, but why didn’t they go in the portal in full force and bust the monster’s ass at once if they wanted to close the incident? Why killing the restaurant dude for meeting El (not even discovering her power) but releasing the chief of police after he even saw the goddamn portal, his first time in the base?

    Something I appreciated a lot instead was Steve’s arc. Not for Steve in himself but because they avoided the cliched “Nancy ends up with Jonathan” resolution. Which would have been what you’d usually expect but let’s be frank, Steve might have been a jerk, but Jonathan’s first expression of interest towards Nancy was taking a photo of her when she was stripping. And that really is not supposed to be a healthy way of expressing romantic desires.

    • I wouldn’t say the kids were completely unaffected, but I’m sure the joy of getting their friend back after all that trouble helped in regards to preventing long-term trauma. At least until the sequel comes.

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