This time last year I had just stumbled upon the Netflix original series Stranger Things.
To be more precise, July 17, 2016, was the date I crossed the finish line with the final episode a mere two days after Netflix released them all at once. That’s eight nearly-hour-long, commercial-free episodes, my friends.
IN. TWO. DAYS.
Sure, I’ve enjoyed plenty of binge-worthy TV shows over the years, but it’s been a while since a series has pulled me in so completely, and so early in its availability. Like, before the wave of obsession hit the mainstream.
I was late to the game with The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Fringe, and Sons of Anarchy (and many others, too), catching up via Netflix or Prime Video after each of those series had long been finished—or had reached season five—in real time. As I was swiftly pulled into the those stories, watching episode after episode way past my bedtime, I always wondered, “What took me so long?”
Not the case with Stranger Things on Netflix. With Stranger Things, I was an early adopter and an immediate fan.
I remember seeing a preview for Stranger Things earlier in 2016, as I perused Netflix looking for my next binge-worthy series, having just finished the very last Sons of Anarchy episode (*sniff*). The preview was meant as a tease, a call to Gen X and Xennial children of the ’80s, with its red neon lettering blaring the show’s title.
At the time, I remember thinking, “Hm. That looks cool. I’ll save it to My List.”
And then I forgot about it, until a few days before the July 15, 2016, release, when Netflix started advertising heavier again.
There’s a pull towards childhood nostalgia that becomes stronger when you approach 40. I’m sure of it. I felt it when I heard the synthesizer-laden theme song for AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire (set in the early ’80s), and when I see things gaining popularity again like Lisa Frank, high-waisted jeans, and the recent snubbing of helicopter parenting in favor of free-range parenting (as a nod back to the freedom embracing “good ole days” of childhood in the ’70s and ’80s).
So, it’s no surprise to me (having just turned 40), that the recipe for Stranger Things worked really well. Here’s why…
The Draw Of Stranger Things
1. The Music
Just like the electric keyboard from Halt and Catch Fire‘s theme song lured me in, the music that backs Stranger Things is ’80s EPIC. In fact, the original soundtrack selections are so dead on for the show’s era, there was a call from the fandom, asking for a compilation.
Maybe the Duffer Brothers already had it in the works. Maybe. What it seemed like, though, is that they heard their fans and then **snap** made it happen. Because, guess what? IT’S AVAILABLE, free with Amazon Prime.
Music inherently tugs on the heartstrings and pulls us back to long-forgotten memories. It’s no secret that even though it’s been 25 or 30 years, I can still remember every lyric to a Cyndi Lauper or Wham! song that graced 105.1 WAVA back in the day (D.C. suburbs friends, I know this is you, too!). In Stranger Things, the blend of well-known titles from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as original scores filled with the digital nuance only a synthesizer can produce, totally makes you wax nostalgic.
2. The Vibe
The sense of familiarity watching Stranger Things isn’t lost on anyone. As I drifted into the first episode, I kept thinking, “Gosh. I’ve seen this before. Except … I haven’t.”
Read any article about the show, and you’ll find the following things blended together as a description of how Stranger Things feels to those of us who spent our childhoods in the ’80s: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Steven King, The Twilight Zone, The Goonies, E.T., Stand By Me.
Considering Matt and Ross Duffer (a.k.a. the Duffer Brothers a.k.a. the Stranger Things creators) weren’t even born until 1984, it’s impressive how well they—as we say—NAILED IT.
From the clothes and the hairstyles, to the games and the bike riding, everything is spot on.
I’m not sure I’ve seen a better blend of comedy-meets-sci-fi-meets-drama-meets-weird since Amazing Stories ran its course from 1985 to 1987, when I was just getting ready to enter middle school (thank you, Spielberg). Getting that recipe correct is no easy feat!
3. The Story
Don’t worry; I’m not going to get into any spoiler-y things here. I’ll leave you to watch season one to find out about the actual story-line.
One of the things that makes Stranger Things incredible is the acting chops. Sure, there are classically awesome cast members like Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine, but my favorites were the kids. All of them. Amazing. I loved that they were all unknowns, and the depth at which they took their characters was astounding: humor, heartache, anger, love. Everything is perfect.
The story itself is engaging, surprising and well-told. That’s difficult to do when you’re attempting to blend ’80s cliche with sci-fi, kids, and a bit of romantic dramedy. Like many other failed attempts out there, it could’ve easily morphed into cheesiness. Except it didn’t. Not even one bit.
Here’s another important thing that I loved about the series: while I really think Gen Xers and Xennials are prime binge-and-obsess candidates, I’ve found that Stranger Things has been embraced by many people outside my own generation, older and younger.
In fact, despite the TV-14 rating (which surprised me, to be honest), it was a wonderful binge for my daughter, who was 11 years old at the time, and FAR more appropriate than the TV-G rated Fuller House that left me cringing from the crude jokes that didn’t go over her head like [I’m guessing?] producers thought they would.
Are you sold?
Season two of Stranger Things is coming. It’s coming! It’s going to be a continuation of the season 1 story-line, despite earlier murmurs wondering if it would follow the American Horror Story or Black Mirror framework, and have a new story line—with maybe the same actors—each season. I, for one, am glad it’s the former … though I’d still be intrigued by the latter.
Want to check out some more of my favorites? Click here for 16 TV shows to binge!