I wanted to give this a try. I mean, 1980s-eque retro television series on Netflix. Winona Ryder. Reminiscent of John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg. Winona Ryder.
Sigh, okay yes I was like every other 80’s/90’s nerdling, and worshiped at the altar of Winona Ryder. The nerdy girl next door of everyone’s dreams who could actually act.
So, here’s a very quick rundown of the episode, where I decide whether to watch more of this.
If you don’t know, Stranger Things is a new Netflix show from the Duffer Brothers who have written several episodes of Wayward Pines. It stars Winona Ryder, Matthew Modine, and David Harbour. It’s set in an Indiana town in the 1980s and is supposed to be reminiscent of suburban science fiction and horror series from that era.
The show takes place in Hawkins, IN, on November 6, 1983. The show starts with a man running down a long corridor of the Hawkins National Laboratory at night, being chased by something. Eventually he is grabbed out of the elevator. Then we meet four boys, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will, playing a very intense role playing game at Mike’s house. Will and Dustin ride their bikes home, but they separate. Something chases Will home, and he retreats into a shed and tries to shoot it with an air rifle, but he is captured by a creature.
The next day Joyce Byers realizes that her son is not in the house. She goes to visit Police Chief Jim Hopper, frantically telling him about what happened. The Chief goes and interviews Will’s friends at school, but all they can offer him is Lord of the Rings quotes.
Another plot point entails Mike’s sister Nancy who is dating Steve Harrington. Nancy seems to be the good smart girl in the group. They make out in her room, but she insists that she has to study, and Steve seems to be okay with that.
At the lab, several scientists are investigating a room with some weird groaning tentacle/plant creature. They are also looking for a girl, who at that moment is running through the woods in a hospital gown. She finds a diner/greasy spoon and steals food. Benny the local cook, catches her, but is willing to get her some food as he calls child services. The girl calls herself Eleven, as he gives her food. Turns out that Hawkins National Laboratory monitors phone calls, so someone visits the diner to kill Benny and take the girl back to the lab, but she escapes.
Chief Hopper finds Will’s bike and investigates the Byers house and shed where he finds the air rifle that Will was trying to use. He then organizes a search party to comb the woods looking for Will. All the while, Joyce and her oldest son Jonathan are going through pictures of Will. Joyce answers a mysterious phone call, where she thinks she hears Will’s breathing on the other end. But then the creature’s roar is heard.
Meanwhile the three boys sneak off to the woods to search for Will, thinking they have a clue as to where he is. In the woods they find the girl, Eleven, instead.
The Good and the Bad
The show was touted as a return to the adventure movies of the 1980s, but really it was much more reminiscent of the PG horror movies of that era. Stephen King movies, the scarier Spielberg movies, most reminscent of Poltergeist, really. I didn’t get any sense of adventure from anyone, just suburban horror.
I really enjoyed all of the 80s touches to the show, from the title font to the fashion to the language, it was really immersed in the culture of the 80s. Even the scientific equipment had that 80s feel to it. It was a small touch I liked about the show Fringe, where the characters were constantly revamping technology from the 70s, and the prop department made sure to use/creates stuff reminiscent of that era. It does give the show a unique feel to it.
One thing that is so startling, but was so true, is how much clothes people are wearing. I mean you tend to forget how preppy and buttoned up fashion, especially girls fashion, was in the 1980s, and how open it is now. The outfit that Nancy wears is very reminiscent of what girls wore in the 80s. It was very fun to see.
It’s only one episode, but so far Winona Ryder is completely wasted. I mean she plays a nervous fretting mother who is a bit of a mess. You could get any actress to play this role. If you’re pulling in Winona Ryder, then maybe you give her something mysterous to play with.
The kids are a bit generic. The intense one, the quiet one, the really nerdy lisping one, and the token black kid who speaks all the explitives. They could become more interesting as the show went on, but as of now, they’re pretty generic. And you don’t get any points from me by putting a token black kid into the show, especially when he’s the one who curses all the time.
But I did appreciate the kids being picked on by some of the bigger kids at their school, without being truly bullied. The classroom bully who beat you up has become such an overdone cliché, that it’s almost refreshing to see a bully character who simply makes the ‘weird’ kids act weird. For the most part, that was more of the bullying that I saw in school than anything else.
The best character is Chief Jim Hopper played by David Harbour. At first you really don’t like Hopper, but eventually you start to come around a little on him, as he has pretty good instincts. It will be interesting to see if he knows there’s something weird going on in the town, with Hawkins National Library, etc.
The plot is supposed to be very generic 80s/90s, so I won’t bug it for being unoriginal. But the real issue is that the show has no joy and no humor, other than tagging into references from the early 1980s.