TV Review – Stranger Things
If Steven Spielberg and Stephen King had a baby, it would be this TV series. It’s E.T.: Extra Terrestrial. It’s Poltergeist. It’s Firestarter. It’s Pet Cemetery. It’s all those movies put into a salad bowl and mixed together. It’s a cobbling of these and even more 80’s films in this era of nostalgia that Hollywood and the entertainment world have. It gives us some good performances. It’s fairly well-plotted, but I’m not sure it does more than that. It doesn’t do more than provide a fairly well-laid adventure where characters are moved from one point to another in the discovery of a supernatural force, the danger and the wonder of it.
Winona Ryder (Edward Scissorhands and Girl, Interrupted) stars as Joyce Byers, a single mom living in Hawkins, Indiana, a more rural town where she works at a hardware store in the downtown area. She has two sons, a teenager named Jonathan Byers and a prepubescent boy named Will Byers. She becomes a wreck when her youngest son all of a sudden disappears. She discovers that something supernatural is at play and she doesn’t let go of hope.
David Harbour (State of Affairs and The Newsroom) co-stars as Jim Hopper, the chief of police in Hawkins. He’s supposedly from a bigger city and has come to this small town after a tragedy in his life. Now, he spends time not caring about his job, drinking and bouncing around to different women. He’s a good man, but he’s in a bit of a slump. When Joyce’s son goes missing, he doesn’t seem too concerned. Joyce has to push him into action, but eventually he does get on the ball.
Finn Wolfhand co-stars as Mike Wheeler, a really good friend of Will, and one of several students between 11 and 13 years-old who are members of the Hawkins Middle School A.V. Club. They’re the geeks. They look like they could have been pulled from the TV series Freaks and Geeks. Yet, Mike isn’t so geeky. He likes Dungeons and Dragons, but he seems normal otherwise. Unlike his friends, Mike is even starting to notice and like girls.
Millie Bobby Brown also co-stars as Eleven, a mysterious little girl who appears almost out of nowhere with a shaved head and a medical gown. She doesn’t talk much but she does have special powers. She is pursued by government scientists led by Dr. Brenner, played by Matthew Modine. Mike finds Eleven and helps to keep her hidden. He also thinks she can use her power to help find Will.
Gaten Matarazzo plays Dustin Henderson and Caleb McLaughlin plays Lucas Sinclair, the two other friends of Mike and the other two members of the A.V. Club. Dustin embraces Eleven and her abilities. Lucas highly opposes having her around.
Charlie Heaton plays Jonathan Byers, the teenage brother of Will, and Natalia Dyer plays Nancy Wheeler, the teenage sister of Mike. Jonathan has to help his mom once Will vanishes. Nancy just deals with typical teenage girl stuff when she’s inadvertently pulled into the mystery surrounding the whole thing. Heaton and Dyer give good performances, but ultimately their storyline feels like padding and wasn’t vital to this story.
Despite having a cold open in the first episode that’s akin to a cold opening in The X-Files, the series never maintains the horror or the terror that that series could maintain. Written and directed by Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer aka The Duffer Brothers, the show isn’t really scary much at all. Being that children are at the center of the so-called danger, one is never too concerned because it becomes obvious that the Duffer brothers aren’t really going to kill a child. The X-Files did have the courage to kill a child, so the stakes become less real and more histrionic.
The Duffer brothers might continue to explore the world they’ve created in the second season, but this first one, their nether-world, nicknamed “The Upside Down,” is kept at a distance and the consequences of the science-fiction at work is also kept a distance. This would be fine, if the series were a case like Lost where the show was actually about characters and character development.
Unfortunately, all of the aforementioned characters are just sketches. They’re interesting sketches for sure and the Duffer brothers have successfully gotten me curious about them, but they’ve only scratched the surface. In terms of Netflix original series, this one doesn’t come close to Sense8.
Three Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 1 hr.
8 episodes total.
Available on Netflix Watch Instant.