Warning: This article contains spoilers for Sranger Things season 1.
Stranger Things is the best new show of the season. Everything in this show is brilliant. The writing, the performances, the set-up, the characters, the dialogue, the mystery, everything is pure gold with a mixture’s of 80’s nostalgia. It feels as if Steven Speilberg would have directed this film in the 80’s. I love the style of this show and it feels a lot like an eight hour movie. The episode would always end on a cliffhanger it you keep wanting to see what happens next, which is a huge plus. The opening of every episode is also fantastic and it sets the mood for what’s too come.
Created by the Duffer brothers and brought to us by Netflix, this show is an homage to pop culture and you can totally see it when you catch references of Stephen King, J. R. R. Tolkien, Evil Dead and E.T. (especially E.T.). The series contains mostly a cast of unknowns with the exception of Winona Ryder, who is fantastic in this show and should be nominated for an Emmy.
The series tells the story of four young friends, who do everything together until one day one of them disappears mysteriously. The kids soon start to investigate and discover that the town holds dark and dangerous secrets. Chief Hopper played by David Harbour, also starts to investigate the disappearance while Joyce portrayed by Winona Ryder, tries to communicate with Will who is stuck in the Upside Down, even though everyone beleives that she is insane. She puts up lights in her living room and writes the alphabet on the wall in order to communicate with him and never stops searching for her son even though nobody believes her and thinks that she is insane.
The cast of this show is terrific. Winona Ryder is abosultey fantastic as Joyce Byers and deserves to be nominated for an Emmy. She is completely beleivable as a mother who has lost her kid. She plays the part perfectly and David Harbour is fantastic as the cop who is on the search for Byers and who is also dealing with personal demons of his own. His performance was subdued and absolutely terrific and he had fantastic chemistry with Winona. His character is also still dealing with the loss of his daughter and the break-up with his wife and the searching for Will Byers will give him new meaning to his life after her loss has made him fall into drugs and alcoholism.
But the series true heart lies with the kids performances and their friendship, which feels completely real and natural. These kids we’re fantasic. Millie Bobby Brown is wonderful as Eleven, a trouble girl who has been experimented on and who has telekinesis and strange powers. She helps the three friends into finding Will Byers and her journey is heartbreaking and tragic, since she keeps getting abused pscycholigically by Dr. Martin Brenner, the man in charge of the facility and of all the experiments performed there, which leaves her emotionally broken beyond repair until she meets Mike, Lucas and Dustin and becomes their friend and finally feels like she can belong. Mathew Modine was great as Dr. Benner and made for a very menacing villain of the show who only cared about his experiments.
Gaten Mattarazzo as Dustin Henderson was the most rational and most logical kid out of all of them and he was the most relatable one for me and gave the most grounded performance. Caleb Mclaughlin is really good as Lucas although he’s the one that got the most on my nerves and kept arguing to the point of becoming a bit of a jerk, but he made it up for me in the end. I was starting to dislike him about the halfway through of this show but he redeemed himself at the end and came to play. Finn Wolfhard is also great as Mike Wheeler and is an intelligent kid and would do anything for his friends and he has the most screentime. Noah Schnapp who plays Will Byers, the kid who disappears and while we don’t see him a lot since he is missing, his character is still fleshed out in the beggining and in flashbacks enough so that you care about whether or not he is found.
His sister, Nancy played by Natalia Dyer is a bit useless in this show and a bit unlikeable. The actress is probably the season’s weakest link. She’s not bad, but she does stand out as being not as good as the rest of the cast. I don’t know if it was her direction or her acting ability, but she was the weakest part of this season for me. Her and her boyfriend, Steve Harrington, whom I despised and couldn’t beleive it when she got back together with him at the end of the season, which made me dislike her even more. She changed my mind a bit around episode 5,where she finally decides to do something good with Jonathan Byers, as the two search for the monster in order to kill it for good. Jonathan does the best he can to help him mom although he doesn’t beleive her at first but later learns that his mom was right. Charlie Heaten was very good as Jonathan and his character was very reserved and he did not like people much, but the actor did a great job and reminded me of a young Leonardo Dicaprio. The only characters I didn’t for we’re Barbara, Nancy’s friend who is barely in the series and barely has any screentime so it was hard to care for her when she was taken, Steve Harrington and his group of looser friends which all got on my nerves every time they popped on screen. It’s hard to get invested in their characters and Steve was a complete douchebag and a complete caricature (as was Nancy when I think about it). If they decide to keep him in season 2 (they probably will, considering he and Nancy are back together) The Duffor brothers need to do a much better job in fleshing out his character and making him likeable for us to care about him.
The series actually feels like it takes place in the 1980’s and the music film posters and movie references all help to put you in that time period. The Clash Should I Stay or Should I Go has a big part in this series and it goes in the show so, so well. It was a great decision to have this series take place in this time period and you actually felt like you we’re back in time along with these characters. And while all these pop culture references are great and all, sometimes you wonder if this show is not copying things from other existing properties. There are a lot of parellels to E.T. and Stephen King’s Carrie. Three kids find an alien (in the show’s case El) and hide him in the basement. There’s also a few scenes where they are on their bicycles transporting El to other places just like E.T. as the kids flew up with their bikes in the sky with the alien as they are fleeing from the goverment. El also has telekineses just like Carrie, who gets picked on at school and there is a scene where she is bullied and has revenge against her attacks by making him pee himself. While those are homages are tropes, it’s a bit impossible not to mention them and while it didn’t bother me as much, is there a point where something can tribute other things too much? While it never crossed that line for me, I can completely understand if it crossed the line for you.
In a nutshell, Stranger Things is one of the best shows of the year so far. It’s incredibly well written, wonderfully acted and presents to us a fantastic mystery. It feels like an eight-hour movie and it’s perfectly a good binge watch from start to finish. Here are my thoughts on every single episode:
Chapter One: The Disappearance of Will Byers
The show starts off strong when Will Byers mysteriously disappears when he doesn’t come home one night after leaving from his friend’s house from a roleplaying match of The Lord of the Rings. Joyce enlists the help of chief Jim Hopper, who begins to investigate as well as Will friend’s, Mike, Dustin and Lucas, who encounter a young female with a shaved head in the woods who escapes the bad men that are after her. The Pilot episode is emotional, engaging, and instantly grips you.
Chapter Two: The Weirdo On Maple Street
Lucas, Dustin and Mike take the girl back to Mike’s house and discover that her name is Eleven. Mike decides to nickname her El. Joyce gets phone calls from Will but the phone short circuits. Despite her mom’s protest, Nancy leaves the house with her boyfriend to a party and her friend Barbara is attacked by a faceless creature. The second episode gives you clues of things to come and the creature is actually pretty creepy and well designed, although you don’t care about Barbara that much since her character isn’t really likeable. The episode ends on a great cliffhanger.
Chapter Three: Holly Jolly
Barbara awakens inside an empty pool in the Upside Down and is kidnapped by the faceless creature. Nancy notices that Barbara is gone, but thinks that she simply has left. She sleeps with Steve for the first time, unaware that Jonathan Bryers is taking pictures. El takes the boys where she thinks Will is hiding but they go back to his house and shortly after a young male body is found in the water, beleiving the body to be Will’s.
Chapter Four: The Body
Back at Will’s place, El proves that Will is still alive by making contact through Mike’s Walkie-Talkie. A body is then found in the water believed to be Will. Chief Hopper finds out later by breaking into a morgue that the corpse is actually a dummy, which means that Will Byers is still alive. Joyce discovers that Will is somewhere inside her wall and after hitting a hole she sees that there is nothing in the wall except her front porch. Ronnie arrives and comforts a broken Winona.
Chapter Five: The Flea and the Acrobat
A funeral is held for Will even though his body is fake. Will’s Father Lonnie returns to town in order to help Joyce but is revealed that he simply wants to suit the company responsible for managing the quarry of where Will’s body was found. She then asks him to leave. The boys search for the gate that leads to the world of Upside Down with El’s help who is scared of returning to the world and leads them to a wild-goose chase. Lucas notices the distortion and confronts El who pushes him with her telekinesis and is knocked out a result. Jonathan and Nancy start to search for Barb and Nancy is pulled by the faceless creature inside a portal in a tree. This episode is extremely suspenseful and it develops the relationship between Nancy and Jonathan Byers really well and finally starts to make her relevant and likeable as they start to go after the monster.
Chapter Six: The Monster
Jonathan pulls Nancy out of the tree and brings her back to Nancy’s place and asks Jonathan to stay with her. Steve, dropping by for a visit sees them together. The two then decide to hunt the monster themselves, which is a pretty stupid decision but OK. Hopper discovers that his home has been bugged and goes to Joyce’s place to tell her. Joyce and Hopper now team up to investigate and interrogate a woman who claim that a facility kidnapped her baby. She is revealed to be El’s biological mother, who has been put into MK Ultra training when she was pregnant. This discover sets the final stages of their plan in motion. While on the search for El, Mike and the gang are ambushed by Troy who threatens Dustin with a knife (pretty intense gesture, I know) and commands Mike to jump of the cliff if he wants Dustin to live. Mike does, but is saved just in time by El who catches him in midair and breaks Troy’s arm. This episode is the strongest of the season for me and it is hugely inspiring.
Chapter Seven: The Bathtub
The penultimate episode. The gang decides to make El a large bathtub so that she can communicate with Will in the Upside Down. She manages to find Will alive but discovers that Barb is dead (which isn’t quite of a shock since we barely got any attachment to her character). Hopper and Joyce attempt to break into the facility in order to save Will, but they are arrested by guards and Hopper decides to cut a deal with them. El for Will.
Chapter Eight: The Upside Down
Hopper and Joyce travel to The Upside Down and finally find Will alive. Nancy and Jonathan face off with the faceless creature at their home just when Steve appears and helps kill the creature after he decides not to flee. Mike and the boys hang out at the school and Mike asks El to the school dance and kisses her. But they are soon surrounded by secret agents and Brenner and tries to get El back but the monster arrives, attracted by blood and kills Brenner and the other agents, leaving the kids cornered in a classroom. El pins it against the wall, sacrificing herself for her friends and they both vanish. Will is brought to the hospital and reunited with his family and friends.
Everything is returned to normal. Mike and his friends still play their Lord of the Rings and Dungeons of Dragons campaigns even though El is gone, Nancy has returned with Steve except of going out with Jonathan (which brings her back to being a complete idiot) but gives him a camera for Christmas.
Almost everything… except Will has still some after effects of being in Upside Down.
This opens up the door for a season 2. Will Will (see what I did there?) return to the Upside Down since he is still affected by it? Will El return? As off right now, there are now plans for season 2 yet, but I am sure it will happen. Will it be better than this incredible first season? Probably not, but only time will tell. Anything is possible.
As of right now, it is my favorite new show of 2016 and overall Stranger Things beautifully directed, extremely well written and wonderfully acted and horrifyingly creepy and definetly makes us hungry for what’s to come.
Season 1 Rating: 9.5/10
Consensus: A Must Watch.