If you’re the social media type, you’ve likely seen a million posts about a series called Stranger Things over the last few days. Everyone from myself (Lowest Common Denominator) to Stephen King has been raving about the show’s greatness and strongly advising everyone on the planet to give the series a chance. You absolutely should, by the way. If you’re curiously reading this article simply to find out if Stranger Things is worth your time, it is. If you’d like to know why, however, we certainly have answers.
Stranger Things is an eight-episode Netflix series created by Matt and Ross Duffer (the Duffer Brothers) starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Matthew Modine, and a terrific cast of young adults and children. Set in 1980’s Indiana, the show follows the mysterious disappearance of 12-year-old Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), who vanishes on his way home from hanging out with his friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo, who steals every scene). Will’s unstable mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder in a standout role), becomes frantic and desperately searches for her son, meanwhile Police Chief Jim Hopper (my favorite adult character, as portrayed by the incredible David Harbour) launches his own investigation. The day after Will’s disappearance, a young girl (Millie Brown) with telekinesis appears and helps the young boys search for Will also. Playing as a cross between The Goonies and The X-Files (a common but entirely accurate description of the series), Stranger Things is fun, heart-breaking, and terrifying – often at the same time.
The acting in Stranger Things is perfect across the board, featuring one of the greatest (and most likable) young casts I’ve ever seen. With as much screen time that each child is given, the performances had to be believable and the chemistry between them needed to feel authentic. Fortunately for the Duffer Brothers, Netflix, and the millions in attendance around the world, each child was perfectly cast and has something wonderful to offer the series. The greatest choice, perhaps, was the casting of Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin (seen above wearing a hat), who does not yet have front teeth due to a condition known as cleidocranial dysplasia, which the Duffer Brothers incorporated into the show. Dustin is easily the most likable character of the series, bringing forth a youthful sweetness and geeky humor that’ll make you wish you knew this kid when you were little. All in all, each child more than pulls their weight in a show that’s loaded with talent, specifically that of Winona Ryder and David Harbour.
I was born in the early 90’s and I remember Winona Ryder being everywhere when I was a child. As I aged, Ryder unfortunately became less and less relevant as an entertainer. The last film I even remember seeing her in was 2012’s The Iceman. Rest assured, though, that she returns in a big way here. Her performance as Will’s tortured mother is the very best work she’s done in her career. She’ll make you laugh, she’ll make you cheer, she’ll make you cry. Stranger Things serves as a showcase for the actress and I don’t expect her to disappear from the limelight any time soon.
David Harbour, too, is at the top of his game as Police Chief Hopper. Harbour is the kind of actor that you find in every other movie, but you never hear mentioned. Even throughout my eight hour binge of this series, I was remembering more and more movies that I’ve seen him in. With a plethora of supporting roles intact, Harbour gets a chance to shine as a lead in Stranger Things, and he’s undoubtedly one of the highlights of the series.
Another highlight of the series, and one that film buffs are sure to love, is the homage Stranger Things pays to a glorious era of cinema. From the opening minutes of the first episode, it’s clear that the Duffer Brothers had created something entirely their own while also paying tribute to films that they were inspired by. There is a heavy 80’s Spielberg tone throughout the series, with some of the happenings paying almost direct tribute to films such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial among other things. Old movie posters can be seen on the walls (Jaws, Evil Dead, The Thing), and Star Wars references are scattered throughout, proving that the Duffer Brothers are not only nodding to the films they cherish, but to the films cherished by the audience as well. It’s no easy feat to pay homage without coming across as a blatant ripoff, but Stranger Things walks the line perfectly straight, pulling off a miracle in the process.
Stranger Things is a terrifically acted series that will please mystery, adventure, science-fiction and horror fans all the same. The series stands on its own while also paying tribute to films we love, giving us something fresh and nostalgic all at once. It’s a pretty damn perfect way to spend 1/3 of a day, and I highly doubt anyone would be less than amazed by the time it’s finished – then again, stranger things have happened.
My Score: 5/5