August 19, 2016

Stranger Things Is All The Things

The Netflix series Stranger Things is all the things. I’m serious. I’ve never been affected by a television show like this before.

I’m going to attempt to explain. Please don’t get the men in white coats. I will also attempt not to spoil anything because you should watch Stranger Things and be amazed by it. There is a chance that I will mention something that happens on the show but I’m going to try not to.

DaddyTips, 'Strange'ified

 

(Make your own ‘Strange’ified text at MakeItStranger.com. But wait until you’ve watched the show.)

Everything about Stranger Things, including the pitch-perfect and totally brilliant fonts, is pure nostalgia. You can read about those aspects of the series everywhere. (Links are included below.)

What I haven’t read yet is what I think, which is the following:

Stranger Things is a dream I had but didn’t have, memories of a life I never lived but also did.

That’s harder to explain. I’ll give it a shot.

I grew up in the city. Lived in an apartment. Never learned to ride a bike. The kids in Stranger Things live in the suburbs, in houses, and ride their bikes everywhere.

Somehow, as I watched the series, especially the middle episodes (there are only eight in total, which is perfect both for your time and for the story being told), I found myself viewing the screen through a haze that I can only describe as memory, or a dream, or some combination of the two. The rest of my living room faded out and all I could see was my television. I mean this almost literally. It was an experience that I wish everyone could have because it was unlike anything I’ve ever felt before, at least when it comes to a TV show.

I suppose one could say that what I’m describing is what happens when you see a great movie, or at least what used to happen when you were younger and less jaded about entertainment. Maybe you are still less jaded, and if so, I envy you. In a world with so many entertainment options, it is difficult not to evaluate work differently than I once did. The sheer joy of seeing Star Wars for the first time is something that no one will ever experience again, if for no other reason than because no movie will ever come out of nowhere the way Star Wars did in 1977. That doesn’t mean the new stuff isn’t good. It is. (We all know how I feel about the first Avengers movie.) It’s simply different.

Stranger Things is different as well. Yes, the show taps into old movies, referencing specific ones. That’s not why I loved it. (If you’re interested in knowing what those references are, that information is very easy to come by.) What the show did for me was the following: it managed to be both entertaining and, in some very strange way, present a life experience that I never actually had. It’s the deepest form of nostalgia.

I want to repeat that one more time because it sounds so unbelievably odd: Stranger Things felt like something that happened to me, even though it obviously didn’t. (Again, I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but trust me, Stranger Things didn’t happen to anybody.)

A person could argue that this is simply the movie references at work. This person may be right. I don’t think they are. Somehow, the Duffer Brothers created a piece of entertainment that sprang forth from my own brain, from my my own memories of something I never actually experiencedThat is an impressive piece of work.

A few specific things I loved about the show:

  • The moment when Winona Ryder, who is so good in this she deserves every award, is going to leave her house but decides she’s going to stay instead. It sums up her character, and it’s an astonishing piece of acting.
  • The kids. Where did they get these kids, a time machine? I didn’t think they made kids like that anymore.
  • No parents. Yes, the kids have parents. But they are rarely seen. That’s extremely retro, and so important to the artistic success of the show. As a parent, I would never allow my children to be on their own the way I was, which is the way the kids on the show are. It was a different time. And I’m not a ‘helicopter parent’. Mothers and fathers simply don’t allow children to do their own thing the way parents in the 80s did. That’s not a social commentary, it’s a fact.
  • The walkie-talkies.
  • The majority of the adults, in particular the two parents (other than Winona Ryder) that we see more often than others, and also the science teacher. Well, and the police officers. OK, I like everybody on the show.
  • Yelling through rooms. “Time for dinner!” “OKAY! (gets quieter) Now listen, here’s what we need to do.” (Not a direct quote.) The jump between jarringly loud and normal speaking voices is something that I don’t think we do anymore. I know I did it. It’s a small detail, one of many, that make Stranger Things possibly even greater than the sum of its wonderful parts.
  • THE KIDS. ALL OF THEM. Everyone is talking about the main group of kids, and for good reason. They’re amazing. I want to include every kid, even the ones with small roles. And speaking of small roles…
  • The characters, and the actors who play those characters. Every detail in Stranger Things has been picked over in numerous articles online. This is because those details were carefully chosen. (Apparently there is one car that isn’t the correct year. I can’t find the story but I’m sure you can if you want to.) Every character, even the small ones, gets something to do. The main characters each have so much going on that in a lesser show it would be distracting. On Stranger Things, it isn’t. Orange is the New Black, another brilliant (for different reasons) Netflix series, manages a similar feat. But Stranger Things does it in a shorter amount of time and on a show with kooky stuff. Orange is the New Black is brilliant in part because it is based on events that actually happened, and as it continues, on events that still are happening, even if it’s not these specific events happening to these specific people. (That is, prisons are super messed up places and horrible things are happening in them.) Stranger Things somehow is about things that happened even though there is no way they could have happened. And in real life, everybody has a story. EVERYBODY ON STRANGER THINGS HAS A STORY. You don’t get to hear about all of their stories, which is also just like real life. (Again, please don’t get the men in white coats. I am aware that Stranger Things is a television show.)
  • D&D

There are so many other pleasures that came from watching this show. A friend told me when I started watching it that Stranger Things had “all the feels.” I thought I knew what he meant but I didn’t. Stranger Things brought up emotions in me that I didn’t know I could still access. I frequently had to pause an episode because I found myself getting more than a little verklempt. Three times while watching Stranger Things, I ate chocolate. Not because I was hungry, because I needed it. That has literally never happened to me before.

I hope you watch Stranger Things and that you enjoy it. I realize I’ve probably oversold it to the point where if the show doesn’t give you a foot massage while feeding you peeled grapes it won’t live up to the type. I apologize for that. Watch it anyway. It’s really good.

Other articles:

(Warning: many of these stories will reveal details of Stranger Things that it would be better for you not to know before you watch. This may not matter to you, which is fine. The warning is because I want to do my part to give you the experience that I had, which is impossible. But I want to try. I’m getting verklempt again. OK, here’s the list.)

Stranger Things Is a Nerdy Story That Is So Much More Than Its References, io9

Gizmodo’s Stranger Things coverage

I don’t totally agree with this, but I’m glad someone did it:
Stranger Things, Side-By-Side With Every Excellent Film It Borrows From (Sploid/Gizmodo)

An article from The Guardian about Winona Ryder, who is SO GOOD ON THIS SHOW

Read this Business Insider article only after you’ve watched the series; I don’t even want to include the title because it’s spoilery.

Watch this after you’ve watched the show. It’s very funny. (io9)

A review of Stranger Things and another Netflix series, The Get Down (The New Yorker)

Here are even more articles. Some of them look cool. See the disclaimer, but also this one: if don’t want to know anything about the show before you watch it, wait until after you do to read these stories. It’s OK. We’ll wait. And if you want to talk about Stranger Things, leave a comment below, or hit me up on Twitter.

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