To paraphrase the Ghostbusters theme song, there’s something weird and it don’t look good in the neighborhood of Hawkins, Indiana. The small town is the center of an increasing amount of scary and unexplained occurrences, possibly involving a secret government laboratory on its outskirts. Thus, we have the setting of Stranger Things, the hit Netflix show that has enjoyed worldwide popularity over the last few years.
Even though the show has millions of viewers (Netflix says around 40 when each series debuts), I still want to recommend it because I am still surprised how many people haven’t seen it, or in some cases, haven’t even heard of it! My recommendation does come with two caveats, though. One is that the show is not for the easily frightened or squeamish. As the series progress (there have been 25 episodes), so do the scares and gore. The other caveat is that the show is probably more entertaining for those of us who grew up in the 1980s. Each series of the show is set in a different year, starting with 1983 and going through to 1985 so far.
Because it is set in the ’80s, it is packed with that decade’s fashions, references, pop culture, and themes. These include The Goonies, Ghostbusters, Dungeons & Dragons, Back to the Future, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and the work of two titans of the ’70s and ’80s named Steve, Spielberg and King. There are also some parallels to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with a group of nerdy school friends fighting the supernatural forces of darkness in their town with the help of a special young woman who possesses the skills and powers to do so. Other Buffy parallels include an underground source of evil, a super-shady-but-likable mayor (Princess Bride‘s Cary Elwes), and of course, lots of world-threatening monsters.
In the case of Stranger Things, the baddie-fighting young woman is simply known as Eleven, or “El” (excellently played by Millie Bobby Brown), whose powers and abilities we learn more and more about as the show progresses. The first series of Stranger Things centers around the Twin Peaks-ish mysterious disappearance of a young boy named Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). His mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder in her first major TV role), stretches the limits of her sanity to insist that he is still alive but trapped… somewhere else. She enlists the help of Police Chief Jim Hopper (Hellboy‘s David Harbour), a large, gruff man (with a heart of gold) with whom she went to high school.
Will’s young friends, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), who last saw him on the night of their Dungeons & Dragons game, also believe he is alive and start their own search. Mike’s teen sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Will’s older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and wealthy jerk/high school bully (also with a heart of gold) Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) also get drawn into the mystery. The show has such a large ensemble cast — but at the same time, does such a great job of character development — that even when other characters such as Max (Sadie Sink), Billy (Power Rangers‘ Dacre Montgomery), Robin (Maya Hawke), and Bob (Lord of the Rings‘ Sean Astin) have been added, they immediately became fan favorites.
Stranger Things was created by “The Duffer Brothers,” Matt and Ross. They clearly have an eye for all things ’80s, interesting characters, and engaging, creepy mysteries. It is amazing how they are able to blend horror, sci-fi, comedy, drama, and nostalgia in any given episode. The show is produced and sometimes directed by Shawn Levy, who has been responsible for Hollywood hits like Cheaper By the Dozen and the Night at the Museum trilogy. Perhaps because of the film backgrounds of the Duffers and Levy, each series of Stranger Things basically plays like a 7- or 8-hour movie that has been divided up into one-hour chapters.
So far, three series are available on Netflix. Series 3, to me, is the most fun and entertaining (and most gory), but it is hard to beat the sheer mystery and atmosphere of Series 1. Apparently, Series 4 had just begun filming when Covid-19 hit, so it may not be anytime soon before it is streaming. Let’s just hope the child stars aren’t in college before it is finished!
If you think you might enjoy some scares, some laughs, and some likable characters, I recommend Stranger Things. Even if you weren’t a child of the ’80s, the characters, special effects, and mysteries are still worth giving it a try. Just don’t binge it at midnight when you are all alone, or you might need to pick up the phone and call… someone.
All three series of Stranger Things are currently available of Netflix. Series 1 debuted in 2016, with 2 and 3 soon after. Series 4 will most likely be ready to stream in late 2021.