If you’ve got a Netflix account, no doubt by now you’ve binged on Stranger Things.
Stranger Things is the latest Netflix Original series released by the Google owned company.
A child goes missing, there’s an underworld, standard bullying and stereotypical teenage behviour, and kids are often seen cycling around kicking goals. It’s a serious throwback to the 80s sci-fi movies, so if you’re like me, and like that sort of thing then you’re in for a treat.
The series has been naturally boosted by Netflix to everyone’s recommended viewing list on the platform, and this is more than enough to get any series off the ground. Just ask Adam Sandler and his awful films such as The Ridiculous 6, which “caused record breaking streaming numbers” on the platform. This was mostly due to the prolific up-weighting of the movie into the top of everyone’s Netflix feeds.
Stranger Things’ up-weighting however, is warranted. Along with some of the other Netflix exclusive shows like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Narcos, Sense8 and Bloodline, this series is quality television. But the unique thing about Stranger Things is, it actually feels like a movie. This really is the next step in producing a series built for binge-watching, and it’s a little bit good.
Stranger Things is essentially old school Spielberg and Stephen King, plus some Goonies magic mixed in with the sci-fi creativity of HR Giger (who designed the Alien); in other words, right up my street.
The features that made those movies classics are all present: the kids riding bikes escaping the adults in cars; the adults themselves having significantly little screen time (apart from Joyce and Chief Hopper); the chemistry between the children etc etc. And as per most of those classics, it’s the children who are the real heroes here.
As George Lucas will attest, working with children can be one of the trickiest aspects of making a movie, but each of these children are absolute stars.
Millie Bobby Brown’s portrayal of Eleven, a girl with a highly traumatic past and present, is both engaging and belieavable. The three boys trying to find their friend Will have true chemistry, and although this is often just plain luck when making movies or TV, you get the sense that a lot of time went into seeing if this would work. When this lot play their boardgames, you actually believe they are playing boardgames. It is as if you’re a fly on the wall rather than a TV viewer, which I suppose is how I am supposed to feel whilst watching a movie. Too often though, I don’t.
Winona Ryder is pretty great too, although tough to bear sometimes as she spends the majority of time crying, arguing or speaking in a tone so high pitched that I can barely decipher it. Another new hero of mine is Chief Hopper, who initially seems like the typical inept cop, but actually goes above and beyond when needed, and we as an audience end up rooting for him.
The action and intensity floats up and down throughout each episode in a consistent manner, with the action usually creeping up towards each end.
Despite this tension I don’t think at any stage you really feel significant emotional connection with the characters and fear for them as I did in the past. I feel like not enough time was spent developing the personality of each of the children, but it’s a minor thought, and maybe that’s me getting cold-hearted. I’m sure when we see them getting broken out of the group dynamic a little bit in Series 2 we can get to know them better.
Having said that, Winona Ryder’s performance as Joyce Byers has a fiery maternal instinct, while also displaying a sensitive and slightly damaged nature that shines through in every second of screen-time. This increase and decrease of tension in each episode doesn’t detract from the 80s movie feel. Somehow this doesn’t resonate like a TV series at all, which is truly great and refreshing.
The cliffhangers at the end of each episode aren’t quite as dramatic as you might have found on traditional television, as there is no need to pull the audience in desperately to the next episode. They are already there, waiting for the next episode to play. If you could have stretched ET, or The Goonies into an 8 hour movie with these little episodic break points, it would have a very similar feel to Stranger Things. And who wouldn’t like that?
If Netflix continues to pump out this kind of quality I will be keeping my subscription for a long time. Good on you Netflix and Google for providing an amazing series as part of my monthly package. For me this is money well spent and great value. Let’s hope the other streaming services follow suit with original content.
Oh, and remember: mornings are for coffee and contemplation.