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Home Arts & Culture Binge-Worthy with Mary Carnoali: Stranger Things 

by Mary Carnoali


If you haven’t seen the Duffer Brothers’ small-screen breakthrough “Stranger Things,” you may want to reconsider the company you keep. Earning a rare 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, its July release on Netflix drew over 14 million people in the first 35 days alone or, demographically speaking, anyone with a pulse and access to their roommate’s account information.

With only eight episodes, the show is an easy binge for those students willing to put aside their futures for a little over six and a half hours of sci-fi thriller. Unlike some other Netflix originals (I’m looking at you “Jessica Jones”), the show doesn’t seem overextended and accomplishes what it set out to do, while still making sure to add that cliffhanger to set you up for a finally-confirmed season two.

The show follows an unusually large number of characters as they each attempt to understand the recent and unsettling events of Hawkins, a sleepy town in rural Indiana. The town presents itself as the epitome of the small-town life, with its underutilized yet dedicated sheriff, nothing-like-that-ever-happens-here attitude and giant government-funded research facility, laden with state secrets and terrifying monsters.

The show is set in 1983. If you miss this in the first 30 seconds under the delusion that you’re going to be able to do the homework that you’ve so optimistically set out, never fear. Everything, from the mom jeans to the television to the concerningly intense game of Dungeons & Dragons, screams the lovesong of Generation X. However, before you get turned off by the seemingly unrelatable Bizarro World that is the 1980s (They had telephones! Hanging on the walls!), it should be noted that the setting, both in time and place, comes across as artful and intentional, and “Stranger Things” could not be what it is without it.

It’s easy to see the bikes and the hair and the grainy Coca-Cola commercials as references to gone-but-not-forgotten era, but in all fairness, much of those so-called references simply come down to realistic world building. The true references lay, much like the story’s antagonist, underneath the surface.

Although Matt and Ross Duffer were born in 1984, a year after the story begins, their love for 70s and 80s filmwork shines through every episode of their production. Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) is to “Stranger Things” what Roy Neary is to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977). Mike Wheeler’s little sister might bring back images of Gertie in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982) or, in some scenes, Carol Anne Freeling from “Poltergeist” (1982).

The group of four inexplicably unsupervised boys that will come to dominate your heart and soul were intentionally modeled after the group of boys in “Stand By Me” (1986) and may also give you some déjà vu from “The Goonies” (1985).

The fact that these classics lend their support through production and cinematography rather than a constant barrage of tongue-in-cheek dialogue allows the show to remain fresh and relevant for its millennial viewers as well.

For anyone like me who may have already heard of the show, but was thrown off by the thought of watching a horror flick, the overall tone of “Stranger Things” is more suspenseful than scary. Many scenes allow us to watch from the monster’s perspective, lurking in the dark, waiting behind the trees. Even in scenes without the main antagonist, the camera often seems to work from the shadows, giving you the feeling that someone’s there, watching alongside you.

Finally, no look at “Stranger Things” would be complete without talking about the incredible cast. Even though much of the screen time is devoted to the five adolescent leads, never once will you roll your eyes and wish that child actors could all just be replaced by well-trained 23-year-olds with squeaky voices.

Eleven is one of the most well-received and complex characters on the show, despite the fact that the actress that plays her, Millie Bobby Brown, is only 12. Of the boys, Gaten Matarazzo (14), moves his character Dustin from charming comic relief to chief strategist and magnet expert.

Among the adult characters, some see Ryder’s Joyce Byers as a comeback from her strong 90s career, while others observed little complexity or variance in her performance.

Overall, “Stranger Things” lands among Netflix’s best work, fostering a strong hype for the direction of the next season, set to release in 2017, in which we hope to see what new and strange things both Hawkins and the Duffer Brothers have in store for us.

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