By Aren Kalash
Netflix originals have long been known for their exciting settings: from the streets of Hell’s Kitchen in Daredevil to the Oval Office in the White House in the House of Cards to the women’s prison in Orange is the New Black. Now the streaming service takes viewers to the quiet roads of fictional town Hawkins, Indiana, in the new series Stranger Things. This supernatural, horror drama is the only Netflix television show of its genre. It spans a mere eight episodes in the first season, with a second rumored to be underway. Largely inspired by filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, as well as acclaimed author Stephen King, creators Matt and Ross Duffer successfully deliver a novel sci-fi blend that evokes nostalgia.
Set in the eighties, Stranger Things offers both a comforting “throwback to simpler times” and an unsettling X-Files-esque creepiness, resulting in a peculiar mix of uneasy contentment. The show begins with the disappearance of 12-year old Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) on his way home from an unfinished game of Dungeons & Dragons. The police soon begin their search, as do Will’s friends, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin). Equipped with backpacks and bikes, the boys scour the woods that lead to Will’s house. During their search, the gang comes across a mysterious, seemingly homeless girl who they later name El—short for Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). As the plot thickens with bullies, a sinister government agency, and more peculiar disappearances, El reveals she can help locate the missing boy by using her supernatural abilities.
In the absence of other summer releases, Stranger Things flourished, quickly becoming one of the most watched original series on Netflix shortly after its July premiere. The unique storyline adds fresh material to an often strained and tricky genre. The predictability that ruins a horror movie and an over-complexity that often plagues many sci-fi/supernatural films are generally avoided throughout the plot. Additionally, there is little excess drama, even though each episode is about an hour long.
The show’s young cast has also significantly contributed to its success. While some scenes may prompt viewers to peek through covered eyes, a lightheartedness and immaturity permeate the boys’ adventures with El, making the spooky sequences bearable. Reminiscent of Spielberg’s E.T., the culture of Reagan-era suburbia serves to minimize darker tones, appealing to a wider range of audiences.
Overall, the show was well-crafted, coupling the adventures of a gang of middle schoolers with the desperate search of an unlikely group of adults. This notable homage to Spielberg and the ‘80s mixes the essential elements of a coming-of-age story and a sci-fi sensation. The characters themselves also felt genuine and relatable, offering an enhanced, more intimate experience for the viewer, even though the whole season is crammed in a short span of episodes. The final scenes provided sufficient closure, while leaving enough mystery to spark viewer interest in another season. There’s no telling what the second installment has in store, but there’s no doubt things are bound to get much stranger.