One of the big breakout hits of this year is the new Netflix series Stranger Things. The show is set in 1983 and follows the disappearance of a young boy in small town Indiana. One of the amazing things about this series is how well it captured life in 1983. The sets, clothing style, music, and overall ambiance, nails the feel of the 80’s tremendously well. It’s one of the best representations of the decade that I’ve seen captured in a modern TV show.
I’m going to put up a big spoiler warning here, since it’s pretty much impossible to talk about the show in any depth without giving things away. You’ve been warned, below the cut I’ll be talking freely about major plot points.
The main thrust of the show is how an experimental government lab had an experiment that went awry. This resulted in a tear to another parallel universe where a creature feeds on captured humans, apparently for breeding. In the first episode Will goes missing and spends the rest of the series trapped in this shadow realm as the rest of the cast tries to figure out if he’s still alive or not. This involves the introduction of a strange girl named Eleven who has amazing powers, such as manipulating things with her mind, and is inexorably linked to the tear in space/time (even admitting that she caused it).
One of the things that I really appreciated in the series was how the audience experienced the discovery along with the cast members. We have the advantage of seeing the story from multiple perspectives, so we always have more of the truth than any one character alone, but we’re discovering all the pieces along side each of them. Each character goes through a range of emotions throughout their discoveries as they come closer to understanding that maybe Will might actually still be alive.
This journey is helped along by some wonderful acting by some young stars. The cast of kids, who are the real stars of the show, performed their roles amazingly. I felt like I was actually watching real kids in the 1980’s in a way that reminded me of myself back then. The opening shot of the show, with all of them playing D&D, was so well done that it felt like when I was a kid playing RPGs with my friends. When Eleven comes into the picture, she plays her role with intensity, yet innocence. She is clearly at the mercy of those who have wanted to user her powers as a weapon, and is tough and hardened from these experiences. However, she is still a young girl, isolated from the world, experiencing the world around her for the first time, learning about friendship and love, and generally being a kid.
I really enjoyed the resolution to the entire series, with Will getting rescued, and many characters growing and maturing. However, my only complaint about the show is the “1 month later” sequence at the end. I felt like it was somewhat tacked on, as a way to set up a season 2. As a story, I felt like I could live with the resolution that was given to us after the final, explosive, night. I didn’t feel like it needed to pull the same story along into a second season, and I wish that a planned second season would explore a whole new place and time. It’s obvious though that the second season will just pick up with the revelation that Will is continuing to hack up larvae that will undoubtedly spawn more creatures that will need to be dealt with and that Eleven is actually still alive out there.
It’s obvious that Netflix is in it for the long haul with continued top-notch shows. Despite my one complaint about the ending, I can’t want to see what’s next.