The character driven and well executed series, “Stranger Things,” was created by brothers, Matt and Ross Duffer (Hidden). Like the FX show “The Americans,” the series does not deal with the current time period, but takes place during the 1980s; 1983 to be exact. The setting is a suburban Indiana town called Hawkins. Serious crimes are not part of normal life for the town’s residents, but that is all about to change for some who reside there.
The opening of the series features four close friends, who are a bit on the nerdy side. They are enthusiastic members of their middle school’s audio visual club, run by their teacher, Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens). When the viewer first sees the friends they are involved in a marathon session of Dungeons & Dragons, a popular, role playing game, that was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, and was published by TSR, Inc. in 1974. The friends consist of: the ostensible leader of the quartet, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard); Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo); Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin); and Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). At the conclusion of the game, while riding his bike back home, twelve year old Will vanishes. The only thing that will be found, strongly indicating foul play, is his bike, which is discovered on the side of the road. The disappearance of Will is the catalyst which sets the Netflix original series in motion.
The four boys aren’t the only child protagonists in the series. The arrival of Millie Brown’s character, who sports a shaved head, barely utters a word, and possesses unique abilities, parallels, Will’s disappearance. Brown completely embodies her character, displaying a gamut of emotions with her performance, while, as previously stated, not talking much.
Mike and the other boys discover Brown’s character while searching the woods for their missing friend. She doesn’t offer up her name to the boys, so Mike will give her the name Eleven because of a tattoo of the numbers 011, located underneath one of her wrists. The boys will refer to her as El for short, and she will play a central role in the series. Without getting too much into spoiler territory, Mike believes El is the key to helping find Will. Mike takes her to his house, and manages to hide her from his parent’s: Karen, played by Emmy nominee, Cara Buono (Mad Men) and Ted (Joe Chrest). He is also keeping her hidden from the mysterious Dr. Brenner, portrayed by Emmy and Golden Globe, nominee, Matthew Modine (Memphis Belle). He is in charge of a research facility, on the outskirts of the town, which masquerades as a government entity. Dr. Brenner is desperate to locate El. His connection to her, and the reasons for his wanting her back, are shown via flashbacks throughout the first season.
Additional important members of the cast include, Golden Globe winner, Winona Ryder (The Age of Innocence) in the role of Will Byers’ mother. Her character, who to begin with is already an overworked, single mother, and now, as a result of what happened to Will, is perpetually on edge. There are a number of scenes Ryder is in, where she is acting by herself, based on supernatural occurrences that are taking place in her home. Ryder plays her part with just the right amount of nuance, so those scenes don’t come across as exceptionally corny. Furthermore, David Harbour, is Hawkin’s worn-down, hard-drinking, Police Chief, Jim Hopper. He comes across, at the start of the series, as curt, depressed, and for the most part disinterested, and as a viewer will learn, for valid reasons. The Chief has not only had his marriage end in divorce, but is mourning a devastating loss in his life. As stated earlier, there is not an overwhelming amount of crime that takes place in Hawkins, so at first, Hopper isn’t sure how to go about his investigation into Will Byers disappearance.
The series also contains a storyline that involves Will’s older brother, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and Mike’s older sister, Nancy (Natalia Dyer), teaming up. Jonathan is acting out of a familial responsibility and love for his younger brother, while Nancy, blames herself for the disappearance of her best friend, Barbara Holland (Shannon Purser). She feels that if she didn’t bring Barbara to Steve Harrington’s (Joe Keery) house, a guy she likes, or if she had at least left when Barbara wanted to, then her friend wouldn’t have also been taken by the same supernatural force that took Will Byers. Jonathan and Nancy don’t have much to go on, but thanks to a photograph taken by Jonathan, they get a partial glimpse of what can only be described as a monster. Armed with the knowledge that they are up against a being that is not human, they set out in search of the two missing youngsters – Jonathan’s loved one and Nancy’s friend. The plot line helped to add some of the more exciting scenes in the series.
While I’m cognizant of the overall convenience that modern technology affords me, one of the things that I appreciated most about “Stranger Things” was the lack of technology as we know it today. There were no cell phones, computers, GPS devices, or video cameras on every corner. When the collective protagonists had a hunch, or needed to find out information, there was no Google they could open up on their IPAD or laptop and type their questions into, thereby receiving a wealth of answers on their desired subject within seconds. Instead, they had to look up information in books; or in the case of one scene involving the Chief and his deputy, Officer Powell (Rob Morgan), on the microfilm at the library. I think having the series take place before the advent of certain technological gadgets, added an extra dimension that enriched the show.
“Stranger Things” is, in every sense of the word, a worthy homage to the 1980s. In addition to the right style of hair and dress, the opening credit score, composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, sets the perfect retro tone. The Duffer brothers, inspired by Oscar winning director Steven Spielberg (E.T.), and prolific, bestselling author, Stephen King (Carrie), to name a few whose influences were on display throughout the season, don’t ever allow the show to become a direct imitation. Furthermore, I was glad that, for the most part, the way that the boys, and the teenagers, comported themselves and conversed was age appropriate. The complete, eight episode, first season of “Stranger Things” was released by Netflix on July 15, 2016. On August 31, Netflix confirmed that there will be a second season.