Kids not yet old enough to drive going on adventures? Check.
Supernatural intrigue and creepy settings? Check.
Mostly oblivious yet loving parents? Check.
Good guy cop with a checkered past that gets shit done? Check.
I could go on and on, but you get the picture. Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer (The Duffer Brothers) are the creators, writers, and directors of Stranger Things, a Netflix Original Series, which has exploded onto the pop culture landscape like a bomb of ‘80s awesomeness. Anyone who grew up in the ‘80s will immediately get gut punched right in the feels when the brooding, synth heavy main theme plays as the title materializes in red neon. It’s a thing of beauty. Austin based S U R V I V E, who have been relatively unknown until now, were commissioned by The Duffer Brothers to score the show, and I can fully attest that the results are magnificent. The score is fresh and unique but still harkens back to the likes of John Carpenter’s fantastic scores and the great sci-fi and horror of the late ‘70s and ‘80s. The show also utilizes quite a few thoughtfully picked and placed original recordings from the era to boost the period feel.
Stranger Things draws inspiration from so many sources, and I’m quite confident I didn’t come close to catching all the references after my initial viewing of the first season. Visually, stylistically, and from a cast POV The Goonies and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial immediately come to mind. The main group of kids are nerdy outcasts that get picked on by the stronger, dumber kids. Mike Wheeler (played by Finn Wolfhard) is the main kid as he develops the closest relationship with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), the girl who mysteriously appears out of nowhere with a shaved head and powers that yield some serious concern. The core group is rounded out by Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) with his goofy yet lovable face and heart of gold and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) who is passionate and fiery but very loyal.
In the first episode Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears while riding his bike home after a night of playing Dungeons and Dragons with Mike, Dustin, and Lucas. Will’s mother Joyce, played by Winona Ryder, almost immediately starts experiencing unexplainable things that lead her to believe that Will is trying to reach out to her. Eventually a body is found in a local quarry that the “authorities” insist is Will, but Joyce never believes it’s him. Other characters initially think Joyce has gone crazy due to losing Will, but they eventually start to discover things and uncover truths that indicate she may not be so crazy after all.
Eventually, the separate factions come together and attempt to get to the bottom of exactly what the hell is going on in their quiet little town. With the help of Eleven’s remarkable abilities and a supporting cast of familiar yet interesting characters, the show unfolds and excels with great acting, writing, directing, and that X factor from a simpler time that is just satisfying and comforting. The show really is a love letter to the pop culture of younger gen Xers. It features a completely unique storyline and cast, but it reminds you of so many things you watched 30 years ago. Things that molded your childhood and tucked themselves away in your brain just come flooding back into consciousness as each scene plays out with expert craftsmanship. It’s just the perfect product in this time and place as nearly every 30-40 something man and woman in America is watching Netflix. We are truly in a golden age of television, and Stranger Things only makes it better.