Stranger Things, Possibly the Best Thing on Netflix
We all know Netflix, the home of Orange is the New Black, Daredevil, Fuller House, that bad season of Arrested Development, and House of Cards, but their latest 8 episode television phenomenon Stranger Things, might be the best thing they’ve produced thus far.
Ripped directly out of the 80s, Stranger Things is a period piece about a small town that gets rocked by the disappearance of a small boy and its paranormal aftermath. The only truly recognizable name in the show is Winona Ryder. She plays Joyce, the mother of the missing boy, and her performance is nothing short of perfect. However, Ryder’s portrayal of Joyce is only a small part of the much bigger puzzle and only a footnote to the other actor’s phenomenal performances.
Everything from the children’s demeanor, to the set dressing, to the style of horror is taken straight from the the 80s. The show is billed as a horror show but the pacing is more like a traditional thriller. Its slow, methodical and fascinating. Its creepy without relying on jump scares and its gimmicks hide themselves as mood intensifying set-dressing. The Christmas lights used to communicate with the lost boy were as useful at moving the story forward as they were nerve-racking in the final episodes.
Stranger Things does what most science-fiction/horror movies fail to do, respect the audience. This is made possible by the show being on Netflix. It doesn’t feel that it has to explain itself. There isn’t a character monologue or designated “ah-ha” moment, the show just happens. The events of the 8 episodes give enough explanation to frighten you, to leave questions and even hint at the nature of the dimension hopping without explicitly explaining anything.
As soon as the credits rolled on episode 8, all I wanted to do was see episodes 9-16. The character Eleven is the most compelling character I’ve seen in years. While it would have been easy to run with her “fish out of water” story and run her worldly ignorance into the ground, the Duffer Brothers chose to allow her to play the part of a silent protagonist. Yes, she does talk in the show, but most of her story happens in dialog situations with characters talking about her or at her.
This allows the audience to soak in Eleven’s fears and emotions directly through her expressive physicality. It creates a connection with a seemingly vulnerable little girl who seems more scared of her abilities than everyone else. 12 year old Millie Bobby Brown brings to life Eleven’s character in a way that is both helpless and ferocious. It would not surprise me if she becomes the next big thing in Hollywood. To put together a performance that engaging in a horror story is something full grown actors fail at time and time again.
As the show climaxes, and all the setup points to the grand finale, each character’s purpose is revealed, all motivations are clear and “the upside down” is dealt with, a feeling of satisfaction washes over the viewer. There are no lingering issues with the plot, and beyond the standard sci-fi affair, the suspension of disbelief is reasonable. The investment in the characters is thick and the action is trickled out at an IVs pace. The show is crafted so carefully that I want to live in that world, even knowing The Upside Down is still at threat.
Rarely has a single season of a TV hit me so hard. True Detective came close, and Game Thrones and The Walking Dead scratch a completely different itch, but Stranger Things feels like a living portrait of a bygone era of American culture, American film and classic respect for storytelling. Strangely, the whole show feel like the Duffer Brothers were working on a movie and decided, at the last minute, to cheat and make Stranger Things into a TV show.
Sure most of the highlights of the show and the entirety of the story could probably be told in a 2.5 hour edit of the season, but the real connection to what that show is, comes from the time given to the actors. Nothing is rushed, and the individual performances from the whole cast benefit from that. I could go on about how the small town setting helped ground the story or that the 80s style of the show was hidden in plain sight so well it felt natural, or that intro theme and logo is the best intro treatment since MAS*H, but I’m going to stop here because I could go all day.
Netflix has very quickly put themselves in the category as industry leaders like HBO and AMC, by repeatedly producing high quality addictive and compelling “TV”. If you don’t think Netflix’s other properties aren’t enough to say they have “arrived”, Stranger Things puts them WAY over that mark.
Verdict: Fans of horror, sci-fi, thrillers, drama and just general fans of television owe it to themselves to watch every minute of Netflix’s first true masterpiece.