Monday, July 18, 2016

(July 2016)

"And you know it, and he knows it, but no one ever says anything until you both start punching and yelling at each other like goblins with Intelligence scores of zero.
"Now everything’s weird.”

For anyone who knows me, it should come as absolutely no surprise that Netflix’s Stranger Things had me by the second scene of its first episode/Chapter.
The scene in question: a D&D session that’s been 10 hours running, threatened by the intrusion of… dun-dun-dun-duuuun… parental concern that tomorrow is a school day.
Set in 1983, Stranger Things is the kind of show that resonates on a very specific frequency, and should appeal greatly to Geeks of a Certain Age, those who know exactly what that scene feels like, those who’ve lived that scene, in one variation or another.

“The bad men are comiiing!”
“Mad hen. Does that mean anything to you? Like a code name or something.”

Stranger Things’ 8-Chapter narrative kicks off with the disappearance of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), last seen headed home after that marathon gaming session. The search for Will draws in not just his gaming buddies, but also a bunch of adults, a bunch of teenagers, and a few other characters besides.
With Stranger Things, the show’s creators--the Duffer brothers, twins Matt and Ross--have given us a love letter to that very specific ‘80’s Amblin strain of entertainment that Steven Spielberg spearheaded. Taking that as their template, they’ve infused it heavily with dollops of Stephen King, some smidgens of John Carpenter, and then sprinkled on many of the pop culture markers of that era, from the music (Joy Division! Echo and the Bunnymen! The Clash!) to the films (The Evil Dead! The Thing! The Empire Strikes Back!).
It’s a heady (and sometimes, emotionally-wrenching) rush of geek nostalgia, Stranger Things is. (And, speaking of geek nostalgia, look! Winona Ryder!!)

Of course, the thing about nostalgia is, it works on our emotional attachments to the familiar, to the things we grew up with. As such, there are a whole slew of visuals and story beats in Stranger Things that will recall, to varying degrees, those benchmarks of our past.*
But, given the way the show takes those elements and weaves them into the narrative whole, we still end up with something new. Reminiscent of something(s) old, oh yeah, definitely. But still, in the end, something new. (Or, new-ish, at the very least.)
To a certain extent, Stranger Things does the same thing The Force Awakens does, work from the template of something old and established, and dress it up with some new elements.
In point of fact, there’s something more pure and honest about the way Stranger Things uses that particular approach.
Let’s be honest: no matter how good it is, The Force Awakens, is after all, still constructed to be a franchise re-starter, while Stranger Things appears to be simply, a new story that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve. (Of course, should Stranger Things suddenly explode into a multimedia juggernaut, then we can reexamine that assessment.)**

“You always say we should never stop being curious, to always open any curiosity door we find.”
“Why are you keeping this curiosity door locked?”

Now, while the contingent of young actors on the show are across the board excellent, Millie Bobby Brown (who was also one of the noteworthy elements of BBC’s Intruders) and Broadway vet Gaten Matarazzo (Gavroche on Les MisĂ©rables) must be commended for their performances; Matarazzo’s Dustin Henderson is officially the latest entry on my personal Awesomest TV Characters Ever! list.
Oh, and Amy Seimetz’s got a single ep guest spot here, too! (Just thought I’d throw that out there.)

So, if you happen to be a Geek of a Certain Age, you’d be doing yourself a mighty disservice if you didn’t check out Stranger Things.
And you know what? Even if you aren’t, check the show out anyway.
Look! Even Stephen King likes it!

My only question about the Netflix series STRANGER THINGS is whether or not it will be popular enough to crash their servers. It might be.
--Tweet from Stephen King

* For the record, there are also some visuals that recall more recent titles, like Silent Hill and Under the Skin. (You’ll know them when you see them.)

** Having said that, I will still freely go on the record to say, given the way they opted to close the 8th Chapter, please please please let there be a second season…

(Stranger Things OS’ courtesy of

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