Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.
And if ever there was a work of art that could only be described as “nostalgia porn,” it would have to be the new Netflix original series, Stranger Things. Set during the 80s, in a fictional town in Indiana, the show follows an ensemble cast as they deal with the disappearance of a young boy, and a number of strange and horrifying events at night. It features a ton of 80s music, pop culture references, and nods to the works of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg. It’s basically just the show runners’, Matt and Ross Duffer’s, big love letter to the Reagan era. Which is fine for two men going through a mid-life crisis, but does it make for good television?
Well, with such a lackluster title, and unoriginal premise, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t enthusiastic about watching this series at all. Now, however, having actually sat down and binged the entire show, I can tell you, I was 100% wrong about Stranger Things. This is one of the best shows on Netflix, and that’s saying a lot, when you consider that the likes of Breaking Bad, Master Of None, Orange Is The New Black, Lost, and Broadchurch are also available on the streaming service.
But what makes this show so good, you ask? The writing. Hands down, it’s the best part of this series. Every character is so fleshed out and well-rounded, that you can’t help but fall in love with them. And that’s saying a lot, when you consider that, on the surface, most of these characters are archetypes. You’ve got the drunken police chief with a troubled past, the strong, but struggling single mother, the rebellious teenage daughter, the bland boy protagonist and his two token friends, token fat kid and token black kid, and many others. And yet, the filmmakers were able to give these characters enough good dialogue, enough personality traits, and enough scenes where they grow and develop that you can’t help but love them. And the acting, especially of the four main kids–Mike, Lucas, Dustin and Eleven–is very impressive. Their performances are easily the best part of this series. Caleb McLaughlin, whom plays Lucas, especially impressed me. I could easily see him going on to become a big star, and play main roles like that of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Seriously. His character is the cynical loner of the group. he’s got lots of gadgets and gizmos. He gets into lots of arguments with his friends about being “naive” and “overly optimistic.” He really is the Batman of this world’s mini Justice League, and I’d love it if he went on to play the Dark Knight in the real JLA. Now, of course, no one can say for certain whether he will, or even whether he’ll continue to act after this series ends, but the bottom line is, he’s great, and I loved watching him.
Now, of course, no work of art is without its flaws, and Stranger Things certainly has a few. One is Winona Ryder. She plays the mother of the boy who’s gone missing, and is the one who gets top billing on all the advertisements. She’s also the most annoying character in the whole show. I understand that her son has gone missing, and that she’s under a lot of psychological stress, but there’s barely a scene in this series where she’s not crying, or speaking in a really shaky voice. And that really starts to grate on your nerves after a while. On top of this, the show fails the Bechdel test. Hard. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s a game you play when watching a movie or TV show. It consists of you asking three questions; 1) is there more than one female character? 2) Do these female characters talk to each other? And 3) About something other than a man? If the answer to each of these questions is “yes,” then the movie is progressive and unique in its portrayal of women. If not, well, you get what most Hollywood productions are. And, sadly, Stranger Things, as good as it is, doesn’t allow it’s female characters to talk about topics other than men, so, no new ground being broken there. And that brings me to my last gripe with the series, it’s damn near fetishization of the past. See, every few years, a movie or TV show will come out that really romanticizes a certain time period. For years, the era that everyone seemed determined to drool over was the 1950s. Back To The Future, Diner, Stand By Me, these are just a few of the movies that basically serve as love letters to this decade. And while each of these films is great, and the people who worked on them are all very talented, the pictures themselves very often neglect to portray the negative aspects of that time period. The 1950s were when Jim Crow segregation was at its strongest. They were the decade before the women’s liberation movement. They were an era when people lived in constant fear of nuclear annihilation, and when “the red scare” led to thousands of innocent, or simply liberal-minded, people losing their jobs and getting blacklisted. So, yeah. The 50s were a simpler time, provided that you were a straight, white, heterosexual Christian male, with an Anglo-Saxon last name, and a near blinding level of patriotism coursing through your veins. Nowadays, we recognize this fact, and so we have decided to fetishize another era; the 1980s. Tons of YouTube personalities, like the Nostalgia Critic, the Angry Video Game Nerd, and Linkara, have made videos tributing the films and pop culture of this era. Stranger Things does this as well. But what they all fail to recognize is that the 80s weren’t perfect either. Homophobia was at a record high due to fear of AIDS and HIV. Crack cocaine was everywhere. And let’s not forget a little group in Afghanistan called the Mujahideen (aka the Taliban) that America felt the need to support in their fight against the Soviets. Yes, it’s cool to see a work of art reference things like Risky Business, and John Carpenter’s The THing. But it should at least acknowledge that the time period in which those movies and songs came out was imperfect.
Still, with all that said, I did really enjoy Stranger Things, and have decided to give it an 8 out of 10. Please, please watch it! I promise you, it will be worth your time.