Mark B. Odom takes a look at the hit summer series Stranger Things. Sure, it has scary monsters, but the show offers much more than that.
I’m only five episodes in and here to say that Netflix’s surprise hit series Stranger Things is wicked awesome. For me – at least at this point – my enthusiasm isn’t so much about the story as it is the show’s atmosphere. This is the best new series I’ve seen in years.
Stranger Things is a horror sci-fi tale set in an anonymous, fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983, where a young boy vanishes into thin air which leads a great ensemble cast into a supernatural, creepy adventure reminiscent of popcorn movies from the 80s.
1983 was the year I turned 14, about a year older than the main characters. Back then I spent many hours reading Stephen King while my friends played Dungeons and Dragons and when we met to hang out, it was usually in the woods, just like the young characters in the show. We didn’t have any monsters in our backyards that I’m aware of, but the movies we went to did.
Each episode of the hit show, which quietly debuted to the joy of millions in the middle of July, features King’s character building and outlandish storytelling paired with horror auteur John Carpenter’s creepiness. To my knowledge, neither of those masters are directly involved in the project, but the show has their fingerprints all over it.
Stranger Things is equally a great period piece as it is sci-fi horror show.
But those aren’t the only reasons I’m so gaga. Stranger Things is equally great as a period piece as it is sci-fi horror flick.
In 2007 legendary Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner was heralded as a master of the period piece as well as being a stickler for painstaking detail when he debuted his beautiful Madison Avenue soap opera set in the 1960s.
I submit that Stranger Things’ co-creators, brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, must stickle at least as much as Weiner.
Like the young main characters, I spent my youth in leafy woods of an anonymous suburban Americana, sharing secrets with a small group of loyal friends, listening to what would soon be known as classic rock, dreaming of the future.
So far nearly every single frame of Stranger Things perfectly captures my understanding of that vague “80s” period.
The series has avoided deploying cliche mullets but does regularly feature subtle nuances of painfully awkward, ubiquitous down vests, those cool banana-seated Schwinn Sting-Ray bikes and white tube socks.
But these details are merely glanced at in the show, unlike Weiners’ near-fetishization of period accurate props and products in Mad Men. A perfect example is the momentary glance we get of the town’s main street. There’s a Pinto(!) parked by a storefront Radio Shack with that distinctive, dated red and white logo I so fondly remember. But we don’t get to linger there for long.
The show stars veteran actors from the 80s and 90s like Matthew Modine and Winona Ryder alongside a long roster of newer, compelling ones.
The show’s appeal isn’t just the period-accurate props that makes it real to me, it has a lot to do with the acting. The show stars veterans Matthew Modine and Winona Ryder alongside a long roster of both new and old, compelling actors. The casting of each of those rascal kids, the turbulent teens and the whole ensemble was remarkable.
On all fronts, Stranger Things gives the decade the attention it deserves. And the supernatural sci-fi story is getting wilder as the show continues.
Writer and producer Matt Duffer says the Stranger Things’ tribute to the 80s was no accident.
“We have so much nostalgia and love for this era,” he says. “We really wanted to see something on television that was in the vein of the classic films we loved growing up: the Spielbergs, the John Carpenters, as well as the novels of Stephen King. And to us, what makes all of these stories so great to us — and so resonant — is that they all explore that magical point where the ordinary meets the extraordinary.”
“When we were growing up, we were just regular kids, living in the suburbs of North Carolina, playing Dungeons and Dragons with our nerdy friends. But when we watched these films and read these books, we felt transported. Suddenly our lives had the potential for adventure; maybe tomorrow we would find a treasure map in the attic, maybe my brother would vanish into the TV screen. We really want to capture that feeling,” Duffer says.
Oddly, the few reviews I’ve read about the series sometimes offhandedly mention that it’s set in the 80s, when it should be recognized as a landmark production for that feat itself.
Oddly, the few reviews I’ve read about the series sometimes offhandedly mention that it’s set in the 80s, when it should be recognized as a landmark production for that feat itself. They also added a bunch of scary monsters and sci-fi special effects reminiscent of the era, resulting in what some of my dorky buddies back then would have characterized as “totally rad.”
I can’t put my finger directly on what makes the show so engrossing and “real” to me, but everything from the haunted rotary-dial wall phone, to the feathered hairdos, Trapper Keeper school notebooks, the oddly modern suburban architecture and chunky walkie-talkies are what I remember from the 80s. It’s done right.
I won’t go into any more details in case you haven’t seen it yet. It’s best to just dive in to the whole thing and enjoy it. If you haven’t, get ready for a scary, fun ride, 80s style.