The thing about “Netflix” is you hear about some original series or movie that’s exploding all over the internet, clogging up Facebook and Twitter and you end up knowing more about the show’s hype before you even knew the show existed in the first place. Typically this causes viewers to do one of 2 things: 1- Jump on board to find out what the fuss is all about or 2- Ignore it completely because your flat out sick of hearing about it. The latter was my original viewpoint when I couldn’t go on the internet for 5 minutes without someone telling me about this 80’s nostalgia driven series called “Stranger Things.” Many say it’s a dark throwback to Spielberg’s child centered films in the 80’s or movies like “The Goonies.”
At first glance, even if you’ve never seen any of those films you can clearly tell the vibe “Stranger Things” is throwing out feels a lot like aforementioned films. But with a darker presentation, a heavily kid centered cast and showing this in a millennial age of entertainment, will the nostalgia be enough to maintain the hype or does this series have something more to stand on? In a small town where everyone knows everyone, things get turned upside down when Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) mysteriously disappears and after a lengthy search by police Chief Hopper (David Harbour), is believed to be dead. But Will’s mother (Winona Ryder) and the boy’s friends believe he is still alive and their search for him leads to all manner of strange discovers: government conspiracies, monsters, other dimensions and a strange psychic girl.
For a TV series paying homage to a lot of old school classic genres, there’s a lot of creativity in here that is layered upon layered with surprising new twists and turns. “Stranger Things” doesn’t just settle throwing one odd ball element into the mundane town mix, it throws all sorts of weird incidents, bizarre elements and peculiarities together at the same time and builds and expands their cast and story around them; integrating them. We see kids and adults both embracing the weirder side of the world in a believable and well executed performance that makes everyone feel real and authentic in a story where everything unreal happens on a regular basis.
The imagination utilized in the dimensions, the monster designs and just the overall visual effect breed a sense of darkness that proves just effective enough without becoming too depressingly overbearing. Having a bunch of kids lead the way definitely reminds me of “Goonies,” “Monster Squad,” “Stephen King’s IT.” However, it’s quite rare child actors are successful from such an early age, “Stranger Things” managed to cobble together a whole cast of talented, likeable and enjoyable child actors. They’re adventurous rather than annoying, you can see and feel the genuine effort and emotion in their performances without it feeling like they’re just reading lines because a grown up told them to. Speaking of grown-ups, mad props for the adults being treated as competent clue solvers rather than clueless dolts most 80’s films of this genre tend to portray them as.
Winona Ryder and David Harbour, to me, are the true stand out performers here. Yeah both have been in the business for a while and seeing new young faces perform so admirably well does receive acknowledgment as well, but I was really impressed at Harbour and Ryder’s performances here above all others. Throw in an eerie, dated-but-delightful soundtrack and a truly disturbingly original monster design and epic finale and “Stranger Things” proved that this series is far greater and deeper than just making spiritual nods and winks to the 80’s kid’s adventure films of the old. Overall, “Stranger Things: Season 1” is a unique, fresh-yet-old stylized series that offers plenty of quality storylines, characters (young and old) and twists them into a compelling sci-fi mystery that provides excellent entertainment to a variety of ages, genre fans and TV fans. It’s deeper, darker and more daring than at first glance and like with most of Netflix’s original programming, it is a series that should not be missed and IS worth the hype.
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