Matt and Ross Duffer’s supernatural science-fiction TV series, Stranger Things, follows the disappearance of a 12-year-old boy named Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) and the ensuing secrets uncovered by townspeople of Hawkins. Following this disappearance, Mike, Dustin and Lucas (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin, respectively), begin searching for their missing friend immediately, when they are joined by a mysterious young girl with supernatural abilities called Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). Meanwhile, Will’s mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) and town police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), mount their own efforts in solving the mysteries behind the disappearance.
The series is set in 1983, in the fictional town of Hawkins. The set is superb in its authenticity, capturing the feel of the era so masterfully that it feels like a show from that time (with modern visuals). From kids riding around everywhere in bicycles, teenagers scaling their beau’s houses and climbing through their windows, authentic-looking garments and so forth – overall, it was very convincing and nostalgia-invoking. Stranger Things is visually striking, with a set that feels elaborate and alive.
A typical preposition assumed by most is that young actors generally deliver mediocre performances, especially when they are in lead roles. Stranger Things turns this on its head. The young actors delivered phenomenal performances, gripping and lovable in their portrayal of their characters. Winona Ryder was especially convincing in her portrayal of disheveled mother in a state of constant delirium over the loss of her son. The writing was similarly solid – the plot was well paced and did well to keep the audience intrigued.
Although the plot was well written, the gravity of the mysterious, malicious government organization was underplayed in several instances. It is implied that they are ruthless and quick to eliminate any loose end, as is shown when they murder a man in a diner immediately in their search for Eleven. Later, when Police Chief Hopper is captured, they release him instead of eliminating him too – they seem very much capable of at least staging his death, if they were afraid of drawing suspicion to themselves. They are similarly merciful when they track Eleven to Will’s house, sparing the parents. This detracted from the apparent danger of the hostiles.
The Duffer brothers were largely inspired by Steven Spielbirg and Steven King in the conception Stranger Things. The idea of ordinary people facing supernatural, extraordinary circumstances is drawn heavily from the literature and films produced by these sources. As I have not seen many Spielberg films or read many Stephen Kings books, I do not think that I am able to fully appreciate the homage to the source material. Those who are, however, have described Stranger Things to be “the show that Spielberg and King never made”.
The first season of Stranger Things is a compelling and well written, featuring great acting performances and a cast of likeable characters. The world feels genuine and alive – it is a show that feels like it is truly from the 80’s, seamlessly adapting itself into the modern era.