Quick Hit: One of the best shows in recent memory – simultaneously original and familiar.
I often struggle with what content to review. There is just an enormous amount of media out there, and I’m always disappointed when I don’t get to consume all of it. Life is busy after all, and when you add in two children and a full-time job, you don’t often get a chance to watch, read, etc. everyone there is out there.
However, I still fill up my brain with a lot. I’m usually a season behind on television shows – trying to watch things on a week by week basis is extremely difficult. The only books I read immediately are Stephen King books, along with the other 4 or 5 million Constant Readers. And obviously you see all my content about the movies that I’m watching. There are very few things that I watch/read/do/think about that I don’t consider reviewing. This is what leads me to today’s TV Tuesday post: the wonderfully different Stranger Things.
Since this is my first TV Tuesday flying solo, please bear with me, my anxious readers, because, as you know, I tend to have problems organizing my thoughts when I’m excited about things.
So first, allow me to give a quick throw down of the show. The show follows several groups of people, of which I will easy categorize: 1) the adults, 2) the teens, 3) and the kids. All are being confronted with essentially the same problem set: there has been a breach in reality by a shady organization, and now a monster has come through the breach and started taking people for its consumption. All of their best hopes seem to lie with a young girl that has been with the shady organization, a young girl named “Eleven”.
Now, that may not sound that attractive to those that don’t enjoy horror/science fiction/mystery type stories, but there is actually a lot to it that will bring in other types of viewers. It’s very obviously inspired by the aforementioned Stephen King; specifically, it reminds me quite a bit of It and Stand By Me. There’s also loving nods to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Sometimes homages stray a little bit too close to the original, but in this case, I think there is enough distance between the inspirations and the new content.
One of the things that I love about it is the fact that they chose to set it in the 80s. There was a lot of paranoia in that time, and it shows throughout. There’s the shady organization, there’s the alcoholic cop with a past, there’s the themes of nuclear family. In fact, that might be my favorite part about Stranger Things. It dares to tackle the theme of what a family should be. We have comedies that will tackle this topic (look at Modern Family for instance), and I think that is a bit easier to do. Here in a drama we see a single mother (Joyce, played by the terrific Winona Ryder – more on her in a second) and her two sons, Will and Jonathan. We see a father who is still grieving, and we also see a perfect little five person American family. There’s also other families that are only felt, but not seen, which I think also allows us a view into the family: if you can’t see them, how important can they be? For a television show to tackle something like this is bold, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed the Netflix original content so much lately: they aren’t afraid to take risks.
The acting is above average throughout the whole series. As previously stated, Winona Ryder just a great job portraying a woman that has lost her son. She truly shows you the depths of despair that a parent will sink to while still clinging to the notion that her son is alive. One thing I want to state here that was originally Ryan’s idea is the fact that towards the end of the series, Winona Ryder starts to seem like a one track actress. Until he mentioned it, I didn’t really see it; after he pointed it out though, it was easy to see the cracks in her performance. Maybe in future seasons (Netflix has already announced season two) we’ll be able to see a bit more of her palette of acting ranges.
Though I enjoyed the other adults (Hopper does a good job ranging his performance throughout the series) and the teenagers (though clichéd to the max, they still are fun), the kids are where the talent truly shines through. Each and every single one of the main four/five kids turn in memorable performances. Are there times where their inexperience shines through? Sure, but that is the best thing about a multiple episode series: it allows you to move on and gives the actors a second chance. In the same vein of why it’s difficult to make a good television show, it’s also easy to make a good one: if you mess up one episode, there’s always the next one.
The kids really spoke to me. I loved the fact that when we first open up on them they are playing Dungeons and Dragons, one of the most classic nerd games out there. There are also several loveable Star Wars references. These are all things that it makes me want to hang out with the kids, much like their science teacher (the show also spoke to the inner teacher in me as he obviously cares very much about the boys. That’s why I originally started my education in, well, education). They really also illustrate all the action, adventure, and imagination that it takes to make a television series like this enjoyable.
My final point is this: my fellow blogger, Steve D. also reviewed Stranger Things. One of the things he stated (he agrees a lot with me on the series as a whole) was that he wasn’t quite scared during the show, despite the fact many have toted it as a horror show and said they were scared. For me, the scares didn’t come from the monster itself. Instead, as a parent, the majority of my fear came from not knowing if Joyce would get Will back; from the parents not knowing what their children were up to; from the story of Hopper’s background. Those were the moments in Stranger Things that truly terrified me.
Overall, I really enjoyed the show. I’m giving the show a solid “A”.
For more on Stranger Things, check out the internet and get out from under your rock.
Or look at IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"