It seems like all everyone has been talking about the past few weeks is Netflix’s latest show—Stranger Things. Created by Matt and Ross Duffer and set in small-town Indiana in the 1980s, this show seemingly came out of nowhere. There was little buzz before its release, the premise was largely a mystery, and yet many viewers, myself included, became instantly captivated.
The inciting incident of Stranger Things is the mysterious disappearance of a boy named Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). His already struggling single mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder), is convinced Will is still alive, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, and begs troubled local sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour), who is also coping with recently losing a child, to help her. Meanwhile, Will’s three best friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) are on their own mission to get to the bottom of what happened to their missing friend—a mission that becomes much more interesting when a mysterious girl with psychokinetic powers who refers to herself only as Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) appears in town, claiming to have knowledge of Will’s whereabouts. There is also a larger, sci-fi conspiracy involving human experimentation, an alternate dimension referred to simply as “The Upside Down,” a pretty disturbing literal monster, and the US Department of Energy, because why not.
The style and tone of the show are perhaps the most unique things about it. Equal parts horror, science fiction, and 80s camp, it pays homage to many classics from that time period, including E.T., The Goonies, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The eight episodes feel very cinematic, truly creating a vivid picture of both the world and the characters. It is so easy to invest in the emotional plot and to root for the people involved, especially because, in a refreshing twist I found relatively rare for the horror genre—these characters are smart. They respond to unbelievable situations in resourceful, understandable ways.
Take for example the trio of Mike, Dustin, and Lucas, who, along with Eleven, comprised the heart of the show for me. As the kids say these days, their sheer determination to find their friend and the lengths they’re willing to go to to handle the situation are friendship goals, plain and simple. I can only hope my friends will be half as awesome if I ever disappear. It helps that the young actors and actresses are truly sensational, and that the show trusts them with carrying the emotional core of the story.
That’s not to say every character is immediately awesome. For example, Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Will’s older sister, has a rather irritating love triangle plot involving her jock boyfriend, Steve (Joe Keery), and Will’s dorky, introverted older brother, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). Nancy’s most unforgivable sin — spoiler alert — comes early on when she abandons her truly fantastic, loyal best friend Barb at a party in order to have sex with Steve for the first time. It’s like she’s never even seen a horror movie, because of course while this is happening, Barb is attacked by the same creature responsible for Will’s disappearance. Sadly, poor Barb doesn’t have friends nearly as awesome as Will’s friends, and it takes Nancy far too long to realize she is even missing because she is a pretty shitty friend unworthy of Barb’s devotion. Sigh. Justice for Barb, guys. But I will admit, even Nancy grew on me by the end. It takes a while for all of the characters to get on the same page, but once they do, they really roll with the punches, despite how absurd the situation is, and it’s very satisfying.
While the kids are absolutely what makes this show special, the adult characters are compelling in their own right. I know I’ll never see Christmas lights the same way again thanks to Joyce’s particular brand of crazy/cleverness, and even Chief Hopper’s emotional arc comes full circle rather nicely in the season finale. It’s easy to see how a concept like this could be an anthology series, but while there has yet to be an official season two pick-up, based on the final moments of season one it seems any future episodes would definitely follow the same story. I, for one, certainly hope to see more Stranger Things in the future, because there is so much more to explore with this world and these characters (and I really want to see Mike and Eleven go to the Snow Ball, dammit).
All eight episodes of Stranger Things are available to stream on Netflix.