Stranger Things? Indeed.

Image used through CreativeCommons.org
Image used through CreativeCommons.org

When my cousin tells me I need to watch a show, I’m writing down the title and looking for it, because I learned long ago to listen to her instincts.

Now, I have been known to drop off the face of the planet, fall off the radar, go MIA from all things social, and just generally tune out of “pop culture” related everything for months at a time.  But when it comes to gripping entertainment (cinema, Broadway, BBC, etc.), I never seem to miss the shows that leave a mark – because I have Annie – my (now not so) secret weapon; the one relative who always seems to know when I swam out a bit too far and need to be hooked by the collar and reeled back into the land of the living. Or dead. Dying? Alien?  Whatever.  My point is, when she emails me that something is a “must see”…I don’t argue. I just pop some popcorn and get to watching.

Her most recent recommendation was the show Stranger Things, the latest Netflix original series offering.  The one that feels as if it could very well be the bastard child of an unholy tryst between Stephen King and Steven Spielberg – if that were at all possible and not in any way unnatural.  Okay, it can be unnatural – who am I to argue with greatness?

Show creators Matt and Ross Duffer do not disappoint with this nostalgic and tense trip down a dark, twisted, and cold memory lane. The Duffer brothers concocted a perfect recipe of sketchy, clandestine government agencies, sinister supernatural creatures, mysterious disappearances, and even more mysterious appearances, to turn a normal, run-of-the-mill, cookie-cutter, early-80s town upside down (see what I did there? No? Watch the show!) and shake it out of its idyllic existence.

Placing a town in peril and putting the bulk of the detective work into the hands of a group of childhood friends is classic Spielberg, while the understated costuming and settings are a tip back to King.  Add to this a seamless continuity from one episode to the next, and solid acting from 80s/90s favorites Winona Ryder, and Matthew Modine, David Harbour, and relative new comers Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Caleb McLaughlin, and Gaten Matarazzo, and it becomes dazzlingly clear that this cast has found a unique and rare formula that simply works.

For purely nostalgic reasons alone, this show is a strong draw – but if you’re a serious sci-fi or horror fan, there are an abundance of verbal and visual Easter eggs threaded throughout the show that give a firm nod back to classic films that came decades before.  If you pay close enough attention you’ll see similarities to movies including: Stand by Me, IT, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Alien, Fire Starter, The Goonies, Predator, Scanners, Poltergeist, and many, many more.  It’s the movie version of a “Word-Seek” puzzle dedicated to the best 70s and 80s science fiction and fantasy films and stories. Add to that the Dungeons and Dragons theme and it’s a sci-fi geek’s holy grail.

This show is a must see for any sci-fi or horror fan who appreciates a classic, organic “scare” that doesn’t rely on flashy effects and over-the-top CGI. It’s stripped down and raw, but it works on such a deep, psychological level, that you don’t know it’s happening until you’re well and truly sucked into the fold.

All it took was one episode for me to get hooked.  In just 24-hours – and allowing for sleep, food, and bathroom breaks, I blew through all 8 episodes.  I’m not ashamed to say that I feel a bit lost…as I sit here, wondering what to do now that I’ve finished the season.

There’s no news (well, reliable anyway) on another season – yet, but there are rumors.  And I honestly don’t know how they’d even top that first season – although I do have my guesses. That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t state the obvious:  with the impressive writing and solid, spot on performances from the cast, I’m willing to bet – if given the opportunity – this series would continue to deliver binge-worthy seasons.

 

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