The first thing that stuck out about “Stranger Things” was it conveyed the kind of atmosphere found in a classic Stephen King film, but at the same time doesn’t quite feel the part of one. Certainly reminiscent of the 80s and sprinkled with angsty teenagers who serve no other purpose other than a hat-tip at the work of John Hughes, it can all seem a little too stereotypical upon first glance to really be one hundred percent believable. Don’t get me wrong, though, “Stranger Things” is a remarkable feast for the senses, but there are some flaws in the series that are too blatant to ignore. But, maybe those faults are what make “Stranger Things” work as well as it does.
There’s something beautiful about a piece of art that draws nostalgia and has originality simultaneously. Maybe it’s the high definition; maybe it’s the filmmaking. Whatever it is, “Stranger Things” certainly delivers. Prior to the season’s release, artsy and dark trailers promised a revamped Winona Ryder (“Girl, Interrupted”)-led E.T. for a new generation. Thus far, the series has held up its end of the bargain, right down to small details in the set. The nostalgic draw — something that’s usually overplayed in productions of this nature — blends into the series effortlessly. A big example of this is the drama’s Spielberg vibes. From the beginning, “Stranger Things” pulls in creative concepts from masterpiece “E.T. The Extraterrestrial” and horror anecdotes from Stephen King. The blending of these two create the pillars that “Stranger Things” rests on, applying the concepts without stealing away the ideas. A young group of friends becomes involved with the unknown when friend and twelve-year-old son of Joyce (Rider’s character) disappears one night. The theme is heavily focused on the basic plot of “E.T.” at this point, as the boys search for their missing friend and encounter a strange girl known only by the number Eleven (Millie Brown, “Intruders”). The scene was nostalgic and new, mostly because it reminded us of “E.T.” but also because it felt different and exciting.
However similar “Stranger Things” relates to Spielberg’s 1982 masterpiece, there are thematic elements that push the boundaries of Stephen King’s works during that same period. The mashup resulted from the Duffer brothers’ fascination with the films of that decade, which explains a lot about the character choices and personalities of said characters in the series. Instead of a friendly alien who wishes to use a telephone and sports a glowing finger, we are greeted by a monster. The first few minutes of “Stranger Things” is promising. There’s proper suspense, flickering lights and an unseen foe lurking in the dark corners. And when Will is abducted by said creature, the fear returns ten-fold, getting your heart racing and palms sweaty in the horror-suspense mode that King is so well known for producing. The small gang of concerned friends sneaking out on their bikes and playing in the basement do their part well, sliding into their roles with relative ease. That being said, however, Winona Ryder’s character fits into the stereotype all too well.
As a single mother struggling under the weight of two boys, Ryder’s character, Joyce, feels like too much of the stereotypical, worrying single mother. Although this is what the series has intended and the part works for obvious plot reasons, her character is drowning under the overplayed and overused concept that has been used far too often in such movies. That’s not to say her acting is in any way diminished by her character, as Ryder is both a popular and well-casted choice for this difficult role, hopefully coming into a groove with the stereotype as the series progresses. Also following classic 80s tropes are the pair of making out, angsty teenagers, who seem to exist for the sole purpose of enticing fans of John Hughes’s films. Their roles, as of the first episode, lack both the depth and body to form any relevance in the series, except the occasional older sibling routine of eye rolling and door-slamming. These character flaws are the only aspect of “Stranger Things” that stand out from a brilliant and nostalgic series, an aspect that will hopefully smooth out in later episodes.