'Stranger Things' is Strange Indeed

Ensign Lestat's TV Log, 16/07/2016

I have just binge-watched 'Stranger Things' because sometimes you need some horror in your life. This show doesn't quite scratch that itch, but it's an accomplished smorgasbord of classic horror references.

Life in a quiet town is thrown asunder when a young boy, Will, goes missing. His mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) is a single mother bringing up two kids on her own. She is utterly distraught when the police, led by troubled Chief Hopper (David Harbour), are unable to locate him. Most affected by Will's disappearance are his three friends, Michael, Lucas and Dustin. When a mysterious girl, calling herself Eleven turns up, these characters find themselves mixed up something quite beyond belief.

Without a doubt this eight-part series is compelling from the get-go. You feel the sheer pain of the mother, as well as the friends' and their own coping mechanisms. The show is beautifully shot, clean at the beginning, and slowly enmeshing the decaying 'Upside Down' world with reality.

I don't know if creators Matt and Ross Duffer intended it to be some kind of homage to the 80s greats, but it comes across as such. There are significant portions of this show that feel derivative, some of which work to give it context, others which just seem cliched. It's mix of 'ET', John Carpenter, 'The X-Files', 'Supernatural' and more, none of which is a bad thing, but at the some time the feeling of originality isn't there.

I was surprised that the show didn't incorporate greater gender and racial diversity. One of the reasons I've always disliked period shows or shows set in the past is because it meant women and people of colour were either invisible or given marginal roles. But this is the 80s, pretty sure you would see women cops, reporters, teachers, scientists, friends (yeah, you read that last one correctly); and you'd definitely see more people of colour in all those roles as well. The entire cast has just one black boy as its token POC character. The women are reduced to the moms (two of them), a sister who spends most of the series worrying about getting a boyfriend, the police secretary and a superpowered, almost mute test subject. It's disappointing to see the roles reduced to the bare minimum, because, it's 2016, it's time we took some artistic license and put these 'minority' characters on the map. How is it more believable to have a faceless monster eating people than it is to parity in POC and female casting? Why do I keep asking this?

The acting through and through is solid. Winona Ryder's distraught mother is excellent, but at one point it gets too much - she is literally given nothing else to work with. She's nuts and crazy in a believable way because her son is missing, while also being nuts and crazy for believing she's in contact with him. That's pretty much it.

More nuanced are the characters of all the children - the three friends are played by youngsters who don't put a foot wrong. I felt the young girl, Eleven, was lacking in something, but her role didn't require all that much emoting - she was great but something was missing.

The older kids are a mixed bag. They acted brilliantly but their roles were poor. The dichotomy of school-bullying in the face of dealing with your missing brother/friend felt forced.

I like that the writers didn't neatly shove two characters into a romantic relationship though all signs point to it. I'm sure in future seasons, assuming there are some, they will get together. Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen.

The ending has left me in two minds. The writers take an unconventional route, yet the subtle hints at things still being afoot are just that, subtle. The ending intrigues but doesn't pull you in. Would I wait impatiently for the season 2 announcement and arrival, or would I forget about it? It's hard to tell, but it's not enough to reel you in.

'Stranger Things' is worth a watch and the first half is gripping. The writing becomes stretched when the action picks up and more explanations are given. It's a good show that could have been great had it not been for its many missteps.


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