I watched the first episode of a new Netflix show people have been raving about recently: Stranger Things. I came away very impressed with the whole thing.
Stranger Things is set in 1980s small-town America and appears to have been shot to bear more than a passing resemblance to a 1980s movie. Coming off the back of Turbo Kid, this is something that appealed a great deal to me, and it was interesting to compare how the two works approached it. While Turbo Kid took the extremely graphic approach of violent action movies of the era, Stranger Things’ first episode felt a little more like a somewhat more family-friendly movie — perhaps a PG or a 12 at most. Any violent aspects were de-emphasised in favour of depictions of close friendships between children, the adventurous souls that many ’80s kids had (partly as a result of the awesome movies we had to enjoy) and the dysfunctional nature of many nuclear families.
Stranger Things’ first episode centred around the disappearance of a young boy who had… something happen to him on his way home from a game of Dungeons and Dragons with his friends. His sudden disappearance allows us the opportunity to meet his single mother and older brother as well as the more traditional (albeit extremely dysfunctional) family of one of his friends as they struggle to determine what happened to him. The local police force also gets involved, and in true small-town ’80s America movie tradition, they’re all seemingly lazy and incompetent, but buck their ideas up sharpish when something genuinely serious finally happens in this sleepy little town.
There’s also a touch of high school drama through the older sister of one of the central kids, who has just begun a relationship with a boy who appears to be one of the “cool” kids. In true ’80s movie tradition, their relationship revolves a lot around seeing one another in secret, even though many people — including her younger brother — know exactly what they’re up to. And there’s a strong sense that the boyfriend is very much the sexual “aggressor” in their relationship, for want of a better word, while the sister Nancy herself is keen not to get distracted from her studies; again, this is typical of ’80s movies, which often had not-so-well-hidden messages of abstinence buried in them.
And on top of all that, there’s a mysterious organisation of scientists, because there was always a mysterious organisation of scientists in ’80s movies, and some sort of weird, possibly otherworldly biological horror. And a girl with apparent telekinetic powers who escaped from their clutches.
It felt like Stranger Things was trying to cram as many ’80s movie tropes as possible into its 50-minute first episode — almost too many — but it managed to do so without buckling under its own weight, and without being too self-conscious or self-referential about it. What it ended up being was a remarkably authentic-feeling slice of ’80s nostalgia that offered enough intriguing little plot threads to make me very keen to see what happened next. It never felt over the top or overt with its ’80s references; it was just when it was set, and everything about it supported that setting, right down to the fact it looks like it was shot on film rather than video.
I’m looking forward to seeing where the show develops from its strong first episode. I’m expecting great things. Strange things, even.