As a 90s kid I view the 80s with distaste and bewilderment. By rights Netflix's Stranger Things, a love letter to that decade's America, should do absolutely nothing for me. And yet I love the show to teensy bits. How can such things be?
It's because show-creators the Duffer brothers love the 80s so much it's hard not to get swept along for the ride. Stranger Things' homages to the era aren't merely skin-deep, though you'll find few TV period pieces that produce such a faithful, lived-in recreation of a time and place as the show's 1983 small-town America. Everything from the (thankfully) dated clothing and hairstyles to the wood panelling on the walls and station-wagon roofs speaks of loving attention. Pop culture isn't just used as props or dialogue flavour but as integral elements to the plot. The Clash's 'Should I Stay or Should I Go' is a recurring motif, and entire articles online have been dedicated to Stranger Things' affection for Dungeons & Dragons.
Even the premise sounds like a brainstorming session with Stephen King and Steven Spielberg. Something escapes from a super-secret government facility and causes local boy Will Byers to disappear, leading his D&D buddies to go out at night to find him – and instead they discover a frightened runaway with special gifts. Plucky kids going off on their own and getting stuff done is the stuff of Spielberg's dreams, and If you like the sound of Stand by Me, It and E.T. having a group hug then you're in Duffer brothers territory.
While the Stranger Things sits comfortingly in the trappings of the past don't make the mistake of assuming the show is dated or a boring remix. Every familiar element is twisted into something new or framed in a way that's distinctly modern – this sci-fi story set during the Cold War is a reminder of how old worries about government overreach, conspiracies are, not to mention social issues such as bullying and ostracisation. The characters themselves are pretty trope-y but they always rise above it in some way: an interesting backstory, a trait that breaks the mould, a story arc that leaves them changed or just damn fine acting that fleshes them out. Amazingly, for such a huge cast, no one's a passive character. Everyone gets to do something at some point.
As lovely as the synth soundtrack is, it's the strength of the performances that really makes Stranger Things such a beauty. Winona Ryder (an 'only 80s kids will remember' name if there ever was one) stars as Joyce Byers, Will's mother, and underneath the surface trope of the hysterical, frazzled mother is a determination you can smash rocks with. Ryder's at once fragile and strong performance is just the first among equals; David Harbour's quiet competence as the haunted police chief is equally accomplished. While the adults are seasoned actors for most of the younger cast it's their first big role, but they don't let you down either. The teenagers each bring that little something extra that elevates their characters, but it's the kids that steal the show. 'Wow' is about all I could say when I saw Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard (which is a real name) do their thing. There are Oscar winners who wish they could do what these kids do.
So, yeah. Watch Stranger Things. It's the show of the year.
Zoheb Mashiur is a prematurely balding man with bad facial hair and so does his best to avoid people. Ruin his efforts by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org