Friday, August 5, 2016

Stranger Things

Stranger Things is an 8 part series from Netflix which is part homage part rip-off of Stand By Me, ET and Stephen King's It. Like ET its set in the early 80s and begins with a bunch of geeky boys playing Dungeons and Dragons. (We don't get to see much of the campaign or even what alignments and races the player characters are. I suspect that the writers of the show weren't real D&D players and the whole D&D stuff is merely a metaphor.) Anyway a girl breaks out of a high security nearby nuclear lab and at the same time one of the group of boys goes missing. Spoiler alert the girl's a government kidnap victim who has mind control powers and has used her remote viewing ability to tear a rift into another version of Earth where monsters live. The monsters can come through the rift and they do that to kidnap one of the male leads and kill the plain girl who is best friends with the pretty female lead. What the critics have loved is the period feel and the mood of the show and that stuff is great. Teen boys in rural America in the 80s having adventures a la Stand By Me, Goonies, Gremlins, etc. is a beloved premise and throw in dark high school stuff and you've got cult classic Heathers as well. Speaking of Heathers Winona Ryder is in it as is another 80s icon, Private Joker, Matthew Modine. These two stars of the period help complete the nostalgia trip as does a great synth score. The show is very good if you like build up and atmosphere and the kids are great. Little kids are almost always terrible in TV shows or movies but they're not in Stranger Things (they weren't in ET or Stand By Me either). The show is not without flaws and these are manifested, like Twin Peaks, in a weak third act arc to the season. Episodes 7 and 8 seem rushed and to be honest not very well thought through in terms of logic or character development. I recently read a book with a similar rip-in-spacetime-that-allows-monsters-through idea called The Fold by Peter Clines which had a much better way of resolving everything in the third act. 
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Still nice visuals, good soundtrack, good enough story, the return of every single 80's boy's crush, Winona Ryder, so in general this was a pleasing enough little sci-fi horror series. Throw in some car bombs and the odd riot and the first 15 minutes of the pilot is basically my life in the 80s half on the edge of Belfast half on the edge of the Irish countryside playing D&D, listening to the Clash, riding my chopper bicycle through the woods...