From the first moment I watched the “Stranger Things” intro first creep across the screen three years ago, dripping with ‘80s synth tones and lettering that looks straight off a Stephen King book, I knew this show was something right up my alley.
Since its debut in 2016, the show has garnered a lot of praise and is one of the most popular offerings of Netflix’s catalog of original content. Set in the fictional Indiana town of Hawkins, “Stranger Things” follows the adventures of a group of kids, their parents and others townsfolk as they begin to unravel a series of bizarre mysteries that unfold.
The series was developed by the Duffer Brothers, and mixes investigative drama with supernatural elements told through the eyes of coming-of-age kids. The series starts off in the early 1980s, and as such, pays serious homage to the pop culture of the era and includes a lot of tones and themes found in works of that time.
Watching the science fiction horror series always conjures feelings of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and Stephen King.
The first season focuses on the disappearance of young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), and the various characters who try to unravel his disappearance. This includes his mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder), Hawkins Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour), and friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin). During this search, the young friends cross paths with a young girl with psychokinetic abilities, known as Eleven, or El (Millie Bobbie Brown).
Also included in the search for Will is his brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Season 1’s ‘80s movie cliché popular/bad guy Steve Harrington (Joe Keery).
The group’s search for Will leads them to Hawkins Labs, a facility operating under the U.S. Department of Energy that has been conducting experiments with El and other kids over the years. In their experiments, theses scientists open a doorway to another dimension, inviting a monster into the town and prompting the disappearance of young Will.
The second season focuses on the return of Will, and establishes a main villain from the other dimension, known as the “Upside Down.” Season 2 also expands the cast of characters, seeing new relationships form between new characters and established ones. New characters include Max (Sadie Sink) and her brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery), and Joyce’s new boyfriend Bob (Sean Astin).
The second season focuses on the monster, “The Mind Flayer,” who is attempting to use Will as a conduit into our dimension. The second season sees the introduction of Paul Reiser as Sam Owens, the new director of Hawkins Labs who, unlike the director played by Matthew Modien in the previous season, is sympathetic to the people of Hawkins and helps them to better understand the events unfolding.
Both season 1 and 2 are set in the fall months, with the second season taking place on Halloween. Seasons 1 and 2 came out in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The most recent season debuted on July 4, and features a summer theme.
The most recent season sees the Mind Flayer attempt to return to the town of Hawkins, this time with the help of – in very 1980s fashion – the Russians. The newest season features more horror elements I would associate with the work of John Carpenter, and sees the Mind Flayer controlling the citizens of Hawkins in a manner that reminded me of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
Trips to the new mall, a massive July 4 celebration and tons of sci-fi horror action make the third season one of the funniest of the three. The newest season adds more characters to the cast and promotes some recurring background characters to main characters, as was done in the second season.
Each season offers its own elements of the classic ‘80s horror movie genres and each does a good job with plot and pacing and character development. Fans of such fare will likely find the homages a treat, and will appreciate the Duffer Brothers’ obvious appreciation for the pop culture world of the era.
While the show doesn’t really feature much strong language, it does have its fare share of sci-fi jumps and the occasional monster attack. The most recent season was the most graphic in these terms – think John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”
The Duffer Brothers have said the series will likely end after season four or five, so if you have yet to see “Stranger Things,” note that we are well past the halfway mark in the overall story. Each season is under 10 episodes, so if you are interested in a spooky binge, “Stranger Things” is a good bet.