By Steve Rosenstein
The best thing about Stranger things is: more Stranger Things! Yes, it was a love letter to my formative movie years, with nods to blah, blah, blah…but that’s not really why I enjoyed it. I watched the series in its entirety on the recommendation of the faceless masses that populate my Facebook feed, people with very great skills in the art of hyperbole and I liked it. Was it the time-machine, transporting me to my childhood (recently not ruined by Ghostbusters)? Partially. It had that nostalgic truthiness that made me recall, not my life, but the pop culture that was the 80s remembered through a lens 33 years old. Enough pixel has been spilled gushing over the nostalgia that I’m going to only say that the song after Should I Stay or Should I Go is Rock the Casbah, and that in my mind’s ear, I cannot hear the one end without the other beginning. Also the Geek & Sundry crowd has gone on to overstate the importance of D&D in the plot of the show and I will just say that Demogorgon is not a title and referring to it as the Demogorgon would be like referring to my editor as the Rodney. (We all know that I am. ~R)
How about the actual story? Was it good? Did I care about the characters? Was I able to ignore the hooks that were baited to prey upon my 80sness? Yes. Yes I was. It is a solid tale of a boy who goes missing due to a government-sponsored screw-up and the subsequent aftermath. The first thing that one is going to notice is that unlike much of its source material, the child-actors in Stranger Things can actually act. The same cannot be said for much of the films that we are nostalgic over (looking at you ET!). So the story is not ruined by having to rely on kids with questionable acting skills, I don’t know what this says about the state of child-rearing in the new millennium, but it makes for better television. The second thing is that right off the bat , there is a solid connection to the Weird, there is no Scooby Doo in the mix, the monster is a monster, and while it may be a metaphor of some such a human evil, it isn’t a stand-in, crazy-ass dude who read some Robert Chambers and flipped the fuck out (which didn’t bother me as much as it seemed to bother a number of you).
It’s a serial piece, so there is one overarching story that is cut down into digestible bites and as the plot progresses, more of the bigger picture is revealed. Treat it as an occult detective piece with a bunch of amateurs instead of a John Constantine and you get the flavor. And even though the mystery is resolved in the end, the denouement gives us enough of a tease that I was left wanting more and there is talk of at least a second season.
After watching the run, I thought it would be a good idea to watch it again with my soon-to-be eleven year old boy (see what I did there?), who is just starting to become intrigued by the Weird. He absolutely loved it! Here’s the thing, save 80s music and Indiana Jones, Logan’s exposure to pop-cultural 80s is minimal. He loved it. Let me repeat that so it sinks in…he has little to no reference point to all of the hype and he loved it. That is why it stands and will continue to stand as a quality television show, not because of its 80s nostalgia street cred, but despite its gushing nostalgia, it is a good story that has the power to captivate the imagination (and attention span) of an eleven year old kid and leave him wanting more.
(Stranger Things is available now on Netflix streaming.)