Don’t look at the title and immediately think that the show’s relance on older “Dungeons and Dragons” guides and world building is in any way a detractor. It’s not, and it was a really cool way to tie the story all together in an about 8 hour campaign.
I went into “Stranger Things” wanting to love it off the bat. There’s a very cool Stephen King-meets-The-Goonies-meets-Twin Peaks vibe starting immediately, and I felt the instant need to keep these nerdy kids safe. They’re my friends from school, they’re what I grew up with. Besides, the 80’s aesthetic of the show felt authentic and less manufactured than other media written today and set 30 years ago.
The horror aspect was engaging, too. I never felt like I was too tense in any scene, but when I’d finish an episode for the night (I’ve grown out of the marathon watching Star Trek in my bedroom and drinking 12 packs of Coca-Cola), I’d be excited for the next chapter. I suppose it’s one of those series you can binge watch if you have to, but like the initial release of “Over the Garden Wall,” I felt like it was better being told as a chapter a night. Scary bedtime material, sure, but effective nonetheless. It even appealed to my niche tastes in horror sci-fi, which can be difficult.
There were two things that made this work, and it was the method of the story telling and the characters themselves. Whenever my dad used to talk about television, it was rarely about the plot, but whether the characters were people he wanted to care about and whether or not they felt real, and I’m inclined to believe in that school of thought. Nancy Wheeler gets to do things, Steve Harrington grows up, and the kids! As much as Winona Ryder did a fantastic job as the harrowed mother of missing Will, watching the kids come together to save their friend was at the same time reminiscent of old Chris Columbus movies while being a new, fresh thing. The last time I remember thinking about how wonderful the kids were was “Super 8” (which is, again, pretty similar in setting and place to this TV series). Am I bummed about Barb? Sure, but I got the kind of redemption Hopper felt he needed to finally be at peace with what happened with his family, and that was rewarding. Even mysterious Eleven is immediately endearing. These characters and actors worked as a cohesive group together.
The other thing I wanted to talk about was the structure of the story. I’ve seen DM notes before, and had a feeling where they were going as soon as they opened with an unfinished campaign, but I loved it. Incorporating a story telling device like DnD into a narrative that typically wouldn’t use it felt natural here. It was so cool and the kids acted as party members, and I loved it. They even tie up the missing parts of the story with what Mike didn’t close up in his 10 hour campaign, which was clever and perfect.
Negative notes do include that Barb scene; it wasn’t fair. Season two will hopefully answer some questions I have. Lonnie needs to not come back.
Spoiler for the ending ahead:
I cried. Actual tears, sobbing. I am so used to people getting there too late. My town in particular has had issues with the deaths of children who weren’t ready. It would have been an easy (if not dishonest) way to get audiences to care if Will Byers died.
I was crying though because he didn’t. The Duffer Brothers could have been edgy and killed him, and I was crying because sometimes in fiction, you do get the better ending you wish real life had more often.
Check it out. “Stranger Things” alone would justify a Netflix subscription.
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