“Something Is Going On Here!”
Please Note: This Post contains copious oodles of chocolate pudding and LOTS of tears…
Jim Hopper: “99 out of a 100 times kid goes missing, the kid is with a parent or relative.”
Joyce Byers: “What about the other time…? The one!”
If it had been on disc available to rent from the Public Library – and if my laptop had not detected a virus upon first clicking on Netflix.com last Winter – Brad would have watched Stranger Things a lot sooner.
After a spate of lousy movies and TV shows, and yearning to escape the humdrum of daily toil, the hype for this show could not be ignored forever. Upon learning that Season 1 is set in 1983 – imho, one of the best years ever! – my heart leapt, and thus, my Netflix sign-up duly completed.
Heck, Stranger Things was awesomely hookable enough to watch through several nights AND drag me away from my morning (breaks) of coffee and CONTEMPLATION to compile this Post.
Unfortunately, on this tea and scones side of The Pond, we don’t have Eggo Waffles, but seeing how chocolate pudding is universally scrumptious enough to be found in the fridges of both Hawkins Middle School AND Brad Manor, one reckoned that sumptuous treat would make an ideal accompaniment through this binge-watching malarkey.
Okey-dokey, got your Eggos at the ready? Let’s engage!
Mrs. Wheeler: “I hope you’re enjoying your chicken, Ted!”
Mr. Wheeler: “Hey, what did I do…? What did I dooo?”
“On his way home from a friend’s house, young Will sees something terrifying. Nearby, a sinister secret lurks in the depths of a government lab…”
The opening eight-minute pre-credits sequence of Chapter One is a masterpiece.
Not only effectively setting the dark and creepy premise, but, with the unexpected aid of Dungeons & Dragons, it introduces our main protagonists as a thoroughly likable gang of Tolkien-crazed perishers. At its simplistic best, this wholesome scene sets Will, Mike, Dustin and Lucas as the sort of friends we would want to have hung out with back in the day. How else can it be explained that so many viewers have become so emotionally invested in what befalls them?
Interestingly, their role-playing gaming also informs us as to which beastie we will have to confront: the Demogorgon (a Demon Prince of the Abyss, it is considered the most powerful villain in the 1st edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons). Said beastie and a “mysterious girl with psionic abilities” have gone missing from a top secret facility: Hawkins Lab on the edge of this supposedly quiet town.
What about Chief Jim Hopper (FREAKY FACT: Named after the unfortunate MIA character killed by the Predator (1987); incidentally, Hawkins became the first member of Arnie‘s combo to be eliminated by that eponymous hunter). When we are introduced to him (waking up on his sofa) the immediate reaction was: oh great, methinks, another stereotypical deadbeat cop. But, fortunately, Hopper – played exceptionally well by David Harbour – quickly establishes himself as one of the outstanding integral characters of the series, even driving the plot to such compulsive extremes.
No matter how sternly he warns the D&D gang to stay away from the hunt, they – naturally! – head off into “Mirkwood” anyway to try and find their friend themselves.
This whole opening episode is riveting to watch. And it culminates in the dramatic encounter with the “weirdo” in the woods.
It was a dark and stormy night…
Lucas: “I bet she escaped from the nuthouse in Curly County.”
Dustin: “You got a lotta family there?”
Lucas: “Bite me!”
One of the crucial factors in this show’s success – and popularity – is the gang, played by an amazing bunch of young actors. It’s oh-so-easy to see how Dustin quickly became a firm fan-favourite. But it’s Mollie Bobbie Brown as Eleven who really steals the show here. With little to no lines to work with during her introductory scenes, her expressive performance is quite easily the most striking by a child-actor seen in a long time. Dr. Brenner summed her up perfectly: “Incredible.”
Sometimes, flashbacks can screw up the narrative flow, but in Stranger Things they work really well, particularly Eleven’s unfavourable memories of “Papa.” It would be convenient, at this point, to mention how great it is to see Matthew “Birdy” Modine again, after too long away from our screens, here playing a villain for a change: Dr. Martin Brenner, Director of Hawkins Lab, and – gee whiz! – such a nasty piece of work too.
Is anybody going to mention what a swell diner Eleven finds?! Any hangout that plays Jefferson Airplane and The Seeds is a cool dive in my book. ‘Tis written: play the White Rabbit song and this White Rabbit blogger will always be pleased no end! 😉
The bickering interaction between the boys in Mike’s basement offers particularly commendable scenes. We get to learn more about their individual characters as they try to work out how to deal with the “Weirdo On Maple Street.” This scene is notable for two reasons: first, the boys learn that Eleven has “superpowers,” and secondly, that’s a swell Dark Crystal poster on his wall! 😉
If Chapter One had the best series opener ever, then Chapter Three offers arguably the most heart-wrenching end sequence of any TV drama: a child’s body is retrieved from the river; Jonathon gets a hug from his mum, whilst Mike pedals home to get a hug from his mum, as Peter Gabriel’s achingly beautiful version of Bowie’s Heroes plays.
And Brad almost chokes on his chocolate pudding. Seldom has one witnessed anything so moving during the early hours…
“Mike?! Mike what?! You were supposed to help us find him alive. You said he was alive! Why did you lie to us? What’s wrong with you? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!” – Mike Wheeler.
Speaking of flashbacks, in one striking scene, we see the Byers brothers in an endearing bonding moment: bopping along to The Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go, which later takes on creepy significance as the mystery gradually unfolds.
Oh, what the ‘eck! We’ve held off this track long enough – you just can’t have a Stranger Things Season 1 round-up without The Clash. Honestly, listening to this ol’ classic stomper will never be the same again.
This is your cue, Joyce:
“COME ON! COME ON! TALK TO ME! I KNOW YOU’RE HERE!” 😉
Jonathan Byers: “Let me get this straight: Will, that’s not his body, because he’s “in the lights”, right? And there’s a monster in the wall! Do you even hear yourself?!”
Joyce Byers: “I KNOW it sounds crazy! I-I-I sound crazy! You think I don’t know that? It IS crazy! But I heard him, Jonathan! He talked to me! Will is- is calling to me. And he’s out there. And he’s alone, and he’s scared, and I don’t- I don’t CARE if anyone believes me. I am not going to stop looking for him until I find him, and bring him home!
“I AM GOING TO BRING HIM HOME!!”
Joyce Byers stubbornly refuses to accept that her youngest boy is dead. Winona Ryder plays the stressed-out mum really well here – a career-best performance, perhaps?
Right, there are lots of good, freaky stuff in this first season, but none more so than during the fourth minute of Chapter Four. Chief Hopper leaves Joyce sitting, worried and confused, on her coffee table. The camera pulls back, and THIS begins to play.
“You can keep the mix if you like. Really, all the best stuff is on there: Joy Division, Bowie, Television, The Smiths. It’ll totally change your life” – Jonathan Byers.
We see Jonathan Byers locked away in his bedroom, lying on his bed listening to Atmosphere by Joy Division on his headphones, trying to shut out the upsetting possibility that his mother has gone insane.
You see, that was ME exactly thirty years ago, locked away in his bedroom, lying on his bed listening to Joy Division Atmosphere on his headphones, playing and rewinding it over and over and over again, trying to shut out all those scholastic, social or psychological problems… Watching an uncanny biopic of This Brad’s Life – especially at that time of night – should be unsettling, but on the contrary, it’s gratifying to learn that someone in the crew saw fit to apply such fine taste in music.
In order for El to try and locate Will, the boys have to smuggle her into the AV room at their school. So they give her a makeover – she has such boyish looks that even wearing Nancy’s old pink dress and a blonde wig – an obvious nod to E.T.’s disguise! – she still looks like Charlie Brown in drag!
Speaking of Peanuts, whilst compiling this Post, this amazing mash-up turned up.
El’s dancing and the Demogorgon’s yawn still crack me up every time.
Good grief! 😉
Joyce Byers: “If he’s so wise, why does he need fireballs? Why can’t he, y’know, outsmart the bad guys?”
Will Byers: “Most of the time, yeah, but sometimes the bad guys are smart too, y’know?”
Joyce Byers: “Alright, I don’t know who’s been raising you, but I’m going to get you some new crayons (because it looks like he’s shooting cabbages!)”
Lookee here: ANOTHER quintessential ’80s trope: a lone hero sneaks into a top secret facility and hiding in doorways whenever one of its dodgy denizens happens to walk down that very corridor. In this Stranger Things case, it’s Hop who sneaks into Hawkins Lab in search of that most elusive quantity: the TRUTH.
Really digged the scene following that bogus funeral for Will in which the boys ask Mr. Clarke how to travel to another dimension. Gee, what a great teacher Mr. Clarke is! He helps the gang cope with their “mourning” by explaining the theoretical principles of parallel universes. Spiffing!
“You guys have been thinking about Hugh Everett’s “mini-worlds” interpretaion, haven’t you?”
Yeah, man, not a day passes…
And so, the gang set off to find the portal that should lead them into the Upside Down.
Chapter Five ends on a suitably sinister note, with that unlikely pair of Nancy Wheeler and Jonathon Byers venturing out to try and find that “faceless” entity she witnessed behind Steve‘s gaff. Yay, Nancy manages to escape from the Upside Down (at the beginning of Chapter Six). Did anybody doubt that she would? A particularly fine performance from Natalia Dyer, whose character develops from shy cardy-and-long-skirt-wearing school swot to assertive jacket-and-jeans urban monster-hunter.
And – ha ha ha! – how the blazes could we forget Steve (“This is crazy. This is crazy!” etc.) Harrington? He starts off as the cool cat: “King Steve” = Stephen King – nice touch! 😉 – turns into an annoying douche halfway through this series, but redeems himself by ending up getting stuck into the spirit of urban monster-bashing.
The same chapter ends with a gripping confrontation between Mike, Dustin and those school bullies. And wahey! Guess who shows up to save the day?
“Yeah, you’d better run! She’s our friend and she’s CRAZY!”
One of my instant favourite scenes, and yours too, no doubt! 😉
Dustin: “Do you know anything about sensory deprivation tanks, specifically how to build one?”
Mr. Clarke: “Sensory deprivation…? What is this for?”
Mr. Clarke: “Okay, well, why don’t we talk about it Monday, after school, okay?”
Dustin: “You always say we should never stop being curious, to always open any curiosity door we find. Why are you keeping this curiosity door locked?”
As expected, the penultimate chapter really gets busy, beginning with a tribute to E.T. – the gang are pursued through the Watkins streets by the “bad men” in their matching vans.
Having just wiped my face (and keyboard!) dry after that emotional embrace between Mike, Eleven and Will on the clifftop during Chapter Six’s finale, so Chapter Seven compels me to ransack the manor for MORE tissues as Lucas makes his heartfelt apology to Eleven, and Mike and Lucas shave hands – everything’s fine and dandy now?
In come more extras from E.T. Luckily the Chief of Police turns up just in the nick of (clobberin’!) time.
Assembling a salt bath in the school gym is kinda rad, man! Another great, creepy sequence.
And as the gang wait for the grown-ups to return, Dustin goes to raid the school store for CHOCOLATE PUDDING. Attaboy, Dustin! 😉
Hey, if MY junior school had stored such a humongous stash of gooey goodness, then – by Jiminy! – all those detentions would have been way more bearable…
“This is crazy. This is crazy. This is crazy. This is crazy. This is crazy! THIS IS CRAZY! What are you doing?! Are you INSANE?!” – Steve Harrington.
And before you know it: my binge reached the final episode. Gee, it all went by so quick; but wow, what a crescendo.
At the Byers’ residence, Jonathan, Nancy and Steve are occupied with paranormal threats, while the kids are chased through their own school by the “bad men.” Meanwhile! Joyce and Hopper – Hazmatted-up and venturing into the Upside Down to rescue Will – offers another irresistibly creepy highlight. Ultimately, Hop makes a deal with the shady cohorts of Hawkins Lab but what price will he be paying…?
Eleven has a final showdown with the Demogorgon in one of the school’s classrooms, and both are whisked off… to the Upside Down? Eleven has to return in Season Two, right?! Boo-hoo! She’s just got to!
Actually, before proceeding with Season Two, this brand new Stranger fanboy went back and watched this whole corking caboodle all over again.
Is this love…?
“Only love makes you that crazy, sweetheart, and that damn stupid” – Florence.
Eh? Come again, Flo?!
Seriously though, this Post set out to be a Review, assessing its faults in addition to gushing over its awesomeness. Let’s face it: tried my BEST to find the WORST, but there are no niggling negatives to be gnawed at here.
However, one crucial point should be made though:
Got to love the way in which this is described as “A Netflix Original Series.” On the contrary, of course, Stranger Things is a cut-and-paste show, with nods to The Goonies here, E.T. there, and so many references to Stephen King sprinkled everywhere! But it’s all concocted in such a deliciously fun and engrossing way that it can – and should -be savoured as a loving ode to the ’80s. And – oh yes – that synthtillating soundtrack by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein is wonderfully evocative of the best decade ever.
Primarily, what appeals to me here is that it’s not so much a horror show; rather, its emphasis leans more towards dark fantasy (an intriguing subgenre that is currently fueling some of my best fiction writing!) There is menace; there are one or two moderately gruesome moments but nothing gory. The 1983 setting is mighty fine and dandy – a story such as this could not have worked in the 21st century – gimme walkie-talkies, NOT mobile phones, ANY day! 🙂 And you know the writing is top class when it becomes impossible to select just one favourite character.
All in all, glad that time and technology could finally coalesce in a highly fortuitous manner to make Stranger Things Season One happen for me. At last! It’s a splendid, but rare treat: watching a perfect piece of television such as this for the very first time.
Ah yeah, this series grabbed me by the Goonies from the get-go and never let go.
Now, Brad has to go and replenish his fridge with MORE chocolate pudding, but he WILL return VERY SOON and present you with an Xtra special feature about El, a Season 2 Review and -hey! – a Season 3 Review.
Marks Out Of 10? ELEVEN! (or El for short) 😉
“Friends don’t lie…”