As I pretty much always am, I was late to the cultural phenomenon that is Stranger Things. I’m sure I was aware of it because it’s on Netflix, but there are so many awful shows out there that I don’t always pay attention.
I assumed it was based on a Stephen King novel. I think I got Stranger Things confused with Needful Things, and then the font of the title (which matches early Stephen King novel font) clinched it in my brain. (For those of you who don’t know, the show pays homage to Stephen King and much other 80s pop culture but isn’t actually based on any single thing King wrote.)
What caught my attention was when a friend, who hates horror, started posting how much she loves this show. This friend is such a scaredy cat that when I took her to a mild haunted house, she was so terrified that she dug her fingers into my arm and left bruises.
I made a casual comment to my husband that we should watch the first episode. We had no idea that we wouldn’t be able to stop until we were done.
If you’re reading this without having watched Stranger Things, I’ll keep the spoilers mild. I will make references to Season 2 characters and situations.
So, what’s so great about it?
- There are few one-dimensional characters. The main characters aren’t perfect. They have flaws and problems, but at the end of the day, they’re interesting. I wanted them to win, and my heart started racing when they were in danger. The one-dimensional characters we see are not onscreen long enough to develop them. Even Billy (who was pretty close to being a one-dimensional bully) got some screen time showing slightly more depth.
- The groups of kids (and adults) mostly work together. The four main characters, Mike, Will, Lucas, and Dusty, work as a team to solve problems. They argue sometimes, but ultimately they manage their disagreements. Nancy and Jonathan don’t always get along, but they put aside their differences to try to kill the big bad guy. I hate when, in movies or TV, the main characters are so busy arguing that they forget to focus on the real enemy. That doesn’t happen on this show.
- The female characters are strong. Every main character on this show, male and female, have agency. At times, everyone thinks Joyce is crazy, but all she cares about is communicating with her son. She vigorously defends herself and doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks. Nancy is concerned about buying a new blouse and getting the popular guy to like her, but when she starts to realize bad stuff is going down in her town, she doesn’t hesitate to grab a gun and go hunting. She’s scared afterward and asks a friend to stay in her room with her, but it doesn’t stop her from fighting. El wants to look pretty so Mike likes her, but is the definition of badass. I read a criticism of the show that Maxine (Max) is only there so that Lucas and Dusty argue over her, trying to win her affections. The thing is that kids develop crushes in real life, so I felt that it was realistic. Max didn’t hesitate to get involved when they needed to help Will.
- The male characters are strong without being chauvinists. At one point, Max asks Lucas if the boys won’t include her “because I’m a girl?” Lucas looks genuinely confused before exclaiming, “No!” The boys and girls all protect one another. Hopper is probably the male character who most often insists that he take the lead into danger. But it makes sense, because he’s the sheriff, and he protects everyone. Plus, his character makes it clear that he’s protective not because he thinks others are inadequate, but because he doesn’t want to lose anyone else.
- The characters’ relationships are sometimes messy. Friends don’t get along all the time in real life. At one point, Lucas and Mike even get into a physical fight, as boys that age sometimes do. Barbara and Nancy argue over how Nancy is acting to get Steve to like her, but Barbara supports her anyway.
- The 80s references. I see all kinds of articles talking about how my generation is nostalgic and loves 80s pop culture, and while I think that’s true, I think that everyone loves entertainment set in the 80s. It was such a colorful, interesting time. There are so many iconic things that signal the 80s that it’s hard not to love that decade.
- The references to other horror movies/ books. People talk about how this show is “derivative,” as if that’s a negative. For my husband (who’s a huge movie buff), half the fun was saying, “That’s from Aliens!” or “That’s a reference to The Thing!”
- It’s more about the characters than about the scary. When I asked a different friend why she liked the show, considering that it’s horror, she said that it wasn’t scary all the time. Mostly, it’s about a group of friends trying to find their missing friend. She said she just covers her eyes during the scary parts and makes sure her boyfriend watches it with her. I agree with her; the story has fantastic character development and I loved all the characters’ storylines.
- The acting is fantastic. I am in awe of how talented these kids are. Millie Bobby Brown as El has only 42 lines in Season 1, so most of her acting is using body language and facial expressions. She does a fantastic job and is a nuanced character even without dialog. Will also has a lot of subtle things going on with him, and he does an amazing job of conveying it. The adult actors are great too. Winona Ryder does crazy without being over the top about it, and David Harbour plays the tortured sheriff in a way that made me want to slap him and give him a hug. I loved the addition of Sean Astin and Paul Reiser in Season 2.
- The music! I almost never go out of my way to find TV show soundtracks, but when they include songs like “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by the Clash and “Heroes” by Peter Gabriel, I’m all in. Even the second season soundtrack, which is mostly instrumental, is great.
So, there you have it, all the reasons I loved Stranger Things and have spent the last four days binge watching it. Have you seen it yet? Did you love it or hate it?