An Examination of Stranger Things – No spoilers!
Stranger Things, a Netflix original series hits on three of my favorite genres – Sci-Fi, Horror, and the 1980s. Broken into 8 episodes, Stranger Things is a solid mini-series with good acting, an intriguing story line, and characters that are likeable (although many are without complexity). Reviewers and bloggers alike seem to be falling head over heels for the show and while I enjoyed the viewing experience, I am not sure what it is about the series that has caused people to be so effusive with praise.
After completing the series, I sat back and examined the aspects of the show that most jumped out at me as a viewer. After considering the components of each episode, I realized that Stranger Things is a mash-up of previously successful art. Here is a short list of what brought me to this realization:
- The relationships and interpersonal dynamics of the children in Stranger Things reminded me of Stephen King’s novella, The Body and its subsequent movie adaptation, Stand By Me.
- The synthesizer background music and the show’s score as well as the opening text is reminiscent of 80s horror classics like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street. The artwork that accompanies each episode is hand drawn character sketches that overlay one another (similar to the original Star Wars trilogy movie posters – and who doesn’t like the movie posters for Star Wars???????).
- Setting the story in the 1980s is a crowd pleaser. It was executed well with few, if any, inconsistencies. Feathered hair, tube socks, plush rugby shirts, and bikes with banana seats = good times.
- Stranger Things shares a number of visuals with classic films. The imagery of Eleven’s sensory deprivation experiences bared a strong similarity to the film, The Cell. Something evil attempts to come through the wall but rather than breaking through, the wall expands out as if it is made of Silly Putty ala A Nightmare on Elm Street. Finally, the writers pulled a ‘reverse E.T. (kids riding their bikes in an attempt to escape adult authority figures – only this time the kids aren’t the ones levitated to safety).
Although I enjoyed Stranger Things, I did not LOVE it. I am a little confused about why it did not completely win me over. It reminds me of a lot of modern art and music that makes use of the historical success of others and incorporates something already appreciated into a new product (ex. Vanilla Ice using Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’ in ‘Ice Ice Baby’ – sorry for the dated reference but this was the first analogy that jumped into my head). Perhaps the homage through collage creates a safe and likeable experience for me as the consumer, however something that leans too heavily on pieces that other creators have produced doesn’t equal the new experience that I anticipated. Instead of 1+1+1+1=4, Stranger Things is closer to 1+1+1+1= 3 or maybe 3 ½.