Stranger Things season 1 review - Netflix does the 80s


Stranger Things season 1 review - Netflix does the 80s

Netflix has a new original series called Stranger Things, and we’ve got the skinny on the new supernatural show.

It’s set in 1983 in the small town in Indiana. The set up is that a young boy named Will has gone missing and his friends go on a quest to find him, while other threads of the story dive into a local conspiracy. And wouldn’t you know, they’re all connected in the end.

The show is the brainchild of Matt and Ross Duffer, twins who wrote the concept and divide directing duties with Night at the Museum helmer Shawn Levy. They’ve said they wanted to pay homage to the classic works of King, Carpenter and Spielberg but also create their own unique world, and they’ve sort of managed it.

Stranger Things is a pretty slight show. With only eight episodes the pacing still manages to drag in the middle, making it feel like too little mystery butter spread over a lot of narrative bread.

Still there are generally enough interesting moments on a per episode basis to keep you watching, and it delivers a pretty strong finale with some tense cross cutting and emotional scenes as the major sets of protagonists come together.

There are a few different groups at work here, including a sub set of teens and grownups but the main arc belongs to a quartet of young performers. And they’re uniformly excellent at getting across an enticing mixture of naivety and mental flexibility which allows them to be the first to believe in the unbelievable events which are taking place.

The Duffers Brothers have done a great job casting these parts and enticing strong performances from Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin and especially young Millie Brown. Their sense of adventure recalls The Goonies, complete with some marvellous 80s trappings in the production design.

On the side of the grown ups, David Harbour is brilliant as a troubled local police chief. He’s struggling with some personal demons which makes him more determined than ever to find the missing boy, and he gets to kick some ass too.

Winona Ryder is the marquee name here, and I found her to be almost unwatchable. Her character has a lot to deal with but Ryder chooses to play every scene hysterically and with maximum gesticulation. There’s no subtlety to the role, making it hard to care for her plight.

It’s an attractive production, though often extremely dark, with all the hallmarks you would expect of an 80s set picture and plenty of products and name dropping to keep you in the period. The touches of CG become more plentiful as the show progresses and they’re mostly decent, though perhaps a little too ambitious for the budget at times.

This is a show that aims for a PG-13 feel so you don’t find much in the way of extreme violence, sex or bad language. That’s in keeping with the tone the Duffers are aiming for but there are still plenty of decent scares and more than a few drops of claret before the end making it unsuitable for younger kids.

Stranger Things is mostly watchable with the early and later episodes providing more entertainment value but it never transcends into essential viewing. The Duffers’ story feels both familiar and flimsy, the characters rarely more than purpose they serve in keeping the story going for another 40 minutes.

There are plans to continue the tale should this first season be successful and there’s a gap in the Netflix catalogue for something aimed at this audience with a more supernatural bent so I expect it will find an audience. Personally, I’d rather rewatch the classic 80s work this show is referencing so heavily.

All eight episodes of Stranger Things are on Netflix now.

-Daniel Anderson

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