Every now and then something comes along that makes you feel like a kid again, that reminds you of the best parts of your past, and affirms some of the things you have loved for a long time and for good reason.
I am only one episode away from finishing the Netflix series Stranger Things. If you’re not familiar with it, let me give you a brief summary. No spoilers here, I promise. If you’ve seen it and you don’t need my opinion to sway you either way, you can skip to the final paragraph for a surprise if you’d like.
Imagine every really good 1980s science fiction movie in which a small town is terrorized by a dark force, a secret government agency may be to blame, and a group of nerdy kids band together to find their missing friend and save the day. It’s like a welcome blend of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and John Carpenter with plenty of references to classic horror, Dungeons and Dragons, science-trivia, and The Hobbit. It’s also pretty scary, and really, really good. I can not stress this enough.
Stranger Things is one of the best things to ever happen to television.
If you were a kid in the 80s, imagine many of the things you loved back then: walkie-talkies, your bike, role-playing with your friends, scary movies, music that didn’t suck, comic books, fantasy novels, and even girls. On more than one occasion, Stranger Things reminded me of snippets of my life I sometimes long for in dreams and memories. It also arouses memories of things you may have disliked about your 80s childhood: bullies, bad movies, music that did suck, overworked parents, divorce, peer pressure, and girls. Part of the draw of the show is not just the mystery of the frightening circumstances, but watching the characters struggle through what a lot of young people struggled through in that time.
Each episode is a nail-biter (to borrow a cliche) that pulls you to the next, but the show is also quite funny, especially if you understand the 80s culture references. They aren’t in-your-face-on-purpose references (such as in the first Muppets Movie), but they are there and they add to the story rather than hinder it.
Like every great Spielberg movie in which kids are the protagonists, the kids in Stranger Things are so endearing and full of life that you want them to succeed. You don’t just want them to save the day; you want their lives to be better. They’re nerdy kids who play Dungeons and Dragons, quote Star Wars, nickname the scary woods near their home “Mirkwood,” and often get picked on at school. I don’t remember rooting for a group of kids in a movie like that since Goonies.
The soundtrack is also filled with music that will take your mind back to the early 80s. From the eerie synth score to the decent playlist of late 70s/early 80s tunes many of us still listen to today, every sound in the show contributes to this time-travel sort of trip back to a time and place that I missed more than I knew. Stranger Things represents so many facets of my childhood that I can’t help but be overwhelmed by this feeling of sad longing and joyful nostalgia.
Of course the show has much to offer people who did not grow up in the 80s. Characters that are more compelling than most of what you see on TV anymore, a creepy edge-of-your-seat mystery (it is, of course, a horror show), and plenty of humor to offset the often dark undertones of the movie. Sometimes the show is cheer-worthy, and I mean out loud in your living-room cheer-worthy, and sometimes, like all good horror, you’re shaking your head, mumbling “Don’t do it.”
So, if you have a Netflix subscription, watch Stranger Things. If you don’t have a subscription, just keep in mind that Netflix is consistently putting out original content that has dominated the competition: House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Daredevil, and now Stranger Things (the best, in my opinion). It is a show that is already makes waves on the web and will probably be talked about and re-watched for years to come.
Now for something special for those of you who have watched the show. The following link is to an article from The Verge that recommends 12 books that would be an excellent follow-up to the show. I have read a few of these and I can honestly say that I see the how fans of the show would also love these books; titles like Stephen King’s It and Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. So if you loved the show, check out the link below.