Synopsis – When a young boy disappears, his mother, a police chief, and his friends must confront terrifying forces in order to get him back.
Episodes – S01E01 to S01E08
My Take – I think we all must accept this – Netflix is killing it with their set of original series! From the comic Orange is the New Black to the dramatic Narcos to the hilarious Love to the to the shocking documentary Making a Murderer to the animated awesomeness BoJack Horseman to their Marvel shows like Daredevil & Jessica Jones, Netflix keeps coming out with some exceptional content, but honestly I don’t think I have ever fallen so hard for a show like this one. This brief 8 episode long sci-fi series had me glued to my television, begging for more at the end of each hour, and I am absolutely devastated that it’s over. This series – seemingly out of nowhere – managed to do so many things so incredibly well that it was, quite honestly, staggering, and my only complaint is that it felt like it was over too soon. From the terrific acting to the truly engaging plot, this Duffer brothers created show not only stands out as maybe the best original content out of Netflix to date, but one of the best new series in quite some time. From the get-go, you can tell this is an homage to classic ’80s Spielberg, drawing on E.T. and Close Encounters, as well as JJ Abrams‘ Super 8. But, as the show progresses, it becomes more and more like a twisted Stephen King story set in a Spielberg movie. It becomes a dark and twisted ride into an even darker and more disturbing world where the stakes feel higher than anything before it. The show is essentially genre-less, with numerous references and allusions to that time period weaved into a mysterious sci-fi horror tapestry that ends up being something wholly unique and utterly engrossing. With its amazing 80s atmosphere and creepy X-files meets E.T feel this show is set to impress. Within its first 8 minutes of run time I could tell I had found something special here.
The story follows the residents of a small town named Hawkins, Indiana in 1983. Soon after the disappearance of the young Will Byres (Noah Schnapp), a few locals – namely the boy’s mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder), the sheriff Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), and Will’s three friends Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) begin to notice strange goings on. Electrical interferences, paranormal activity and shadowy government cover ups. Over the course of the first few episodes, the boys meet a young government lab escapee who has been dubbed ‘Eleven’ (Millie Bobby Brown), who demonstrates some curious abilities. She can manipulate things with her mind, and is able to communicate with people between different dimensions. Being that she escaped from a government facility though, she is being hunted by a team of government-men and comes to rely on the group of boys for her safety. Meanwhile Will’s brother Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton), feeling guilty for the loss of Will teams up with Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) to avenge whoever or whatever is responsible for the disappearance of Will & Nancy’s friend Barbara (Shannon Purser). From the very beginning, we were sucked into it with a tense opening scene that set the stage for what sort of series this was going to be. We’re introduced to the characters one by one, in a way that makes us understand that each of them is going to eventually play a role in the outworking of the plot. A kid going missing is something we’ve seen many times in television and films but because it is such an urgent, fearful, disturbing event you are instantly following the case because you want to know what has happened and you want to see him back; so from the very first episode I was hooked and I was staying.
Now the series is only eight episodes and I think that’s a good thing; a lot of American shows have upwards of twenty and sometimes that can lose momentum and become very episodic, which works depending on the nature of the series, but I do enjoy a lot of British shows where they usually have between six and thirteen episodes negating the need for fillers and can concentrate on a good script. Credit to the writers for creating such interesting characters. Each one felt they had deserved their screen time. Each character has depth or makes an arc, and you care about each single one of them, which makes the series only more tense. The character of Steve surprised me the most. He seemed like a douche, but thanks to fantastic writing I started to like him more and he also changed and became nicer. But the thing that I really want to mention is how quickly the show makes you care about someone. Only in the second episode (the second!) I already was near to crying when Jonathan hung up posters of his brother that he had made. His acting was fantastic at that moment and you could see the grief in his eyes, which is also something good. Hopper again is brilliant as we never really know his motives but we again root for his happiness. Nancy’s story-line felt too separate at the start but it really blended in well with the story and gave the viewers a taste of adolescent life during the 80s. It was nice to see such empowering female leads – each one felt strong and determined but no more than the real highlight of the show, Eleven. The character of Eleven is probably one of the smartest moves Netflix has ever done. They have managed to make one of the most complex characters on television with barely any dialogue. There is constant empathy felt for Eleven. You can tell from her expression that her childhood had been stripped from her life. She is separate from the world but we still manage to connect with her in an emotional way. Like ET, there innocence and circumstance leads us to worry and care about them as time goes on. The last part of the show is one of the most heart-breaking moments of television I’ve seen – but it all highlights one of the shows prominent themes – love. The ways they show how the people handle the loss of Will. How his mother becomes near insane and Jonathan suppresses his pain. But all characters were great, I just named a few. They were interesting and fun to watch and evolve. The story was also interesting and kept you on the edge of your seat. It was complicated but that was its charm. Here the Duffer Brothers have crafted a simple but very well written story that feels more like a movie; each episode follows on instantly from the previous with no recaps or ‘Next Time’ trailers. The also know when to show things and when to not, they spent their budget wisely and paid wonderful homage to the Hollywood of that time giving you visuals reminding you of things like The Goonies and E.T.
These callbacks also never detract from the plot and fit the story well; also despite the 80s adventure inspiration, this show isn’t necessarily for the Spielberg audience with one or two darker moments scattered here and there. The kids here are just fantastic in every single role. Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin aka “Toothless” will most likely become everyone’s instant favorite with his harmless look, exuberantly geeky personality and constant swearing. But all the kids are very capable in their roles and bring their own dynamic to their fellowship. Finn Wolfhard is solid as Mike, the awkward de facto leader of the group, alongside Caleb McLaughlin as the fiery, but level-headed Lucas. Initially thought that Hopper was going to be a character that I disliked, but that wasn’t the case. He was human and flawed, and I loved how his backstory was revealed little by little, up until the last episode, when we saw the culmination of what made him into the man that he was. David Harbour is excellent here. I thought Winona Ryder did brilliantly as a strained, anxious, just-a-little-shy-of-emotionally-unstable mother of a lost child. But the most phenomenal performance came from Millie Bobby Brown as El/Eleven. She didn’t have much dialogue, and most of her acting was done with her body language, her eyes, and her facial expressions, and it was absolutely brilliant. Matthew Modine, Joe Keery, Charlie Heaton & Natalia Dyer also play their parts well. On the whole, ‘Stranger Things’ with its superb directing, acting and writing, is without a doubt the best freshman show of 2016. Trust me, this series is just perfect, holds the attention from start to finish. Each episode is well designed, intrigue and surprises the viewer, causing the desire to immediately begin the next stay latent. I am really looking forward to next season.
Status – Season 1 (Completed)
Network – Netflix