I have a theory that nostalgia and escapism peak after tragedy. People want to either leap to a magical new place, or return to a more innocent time. So it’s probably no surprise that Pokemon Go has taken off like Team Rocket. It’s the perfect combination of escapist magic and nostalgic touchstone.
Meanwhile on Netflix, new series Stranger Things manages to both fulfill that desire for nostalgic escapism and transcend it, delivering an engrossing tale of mystery, sci-fi, horror, coming of age, and coming to terms.
A love letter to the supernatural classics of the 80’s, Stranger Things is the story of a young boy who vanishes into thin air. As friends, family and local police search for answers, they are drawn into an extraordinary mystery involving top-secret government experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one very strange little girl.
Most of the reviews I’ve read have focused on the series stylish look and feel. It’s not just set in the 80s – the Duffer Brothers have made an impressive effort to make it feel like a movie or television show made during that era. From the font choices to the synth-infused background score to the period-perfect sets and costumes, in some ways it really does feel like a long-lost collaboration between Stephen Spielberg and Stephen King.
But there are modern touches, too. Girls and grown-ups both get better treatment than they probably would have in a real 80s flick. Winona Ryder as the missing boy’s mom, and Natalie Dyer as the older sister of one of his friends (aka “designated love interest of the older teen boys”) start off predictably, but both end up fairly badass, with interesting character arcs.
The adults aren’t just wax figures in the background, either. Ryder’s harried single mom and David Harbour’s police chief outgrow their cliched intros to feel like real people, with struggles that go beyond finding the missing child (or solving the other mysteries which begin piling up in the aftermath).
And let’s not forget it’s only recently that Netflix and Amazon have made weird, quirky, risky series like this possible. What amounts to an eight hour miniseries, with this calibre of effects and talent, produced by relative unknowns, would not have happened back when we had three networks, and no internet.
The acting, direction and most of all pacing of this series couldn’t have been better. Eight episodes was exactly the right length for this story. While the premiere throws a lot of stuff at you, the show isn’t afraid to slow things down at times, setting up pieces that will be satisfyingly knocked over later. The cast of kids are fantastic, but Millie Bobby Brown is a real standout, delivering a huge emotional sucker punch with minimal lines.
The less you know going in, the better. Really, all you need to know is that it’s an excellent, well-made series. It’s the video equivalent of a good book you keep telling yourself you’ll put down after “one more chapter” (except you don’t, not till it’s done.) If you also love 80s pop culture, the period trimmings are an extra added bonus, but they’re hardly the only reason to enjoy this show.