It was a nostalgic July, and we’ve got Netflix to thank. If you’re serious about your TV viewing or have found yourself in the vicinity of Twitter, Facebook and the usual sources of TV trends and spoilers over the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard of and subsequently watched Stranger Things. And if you haven’t, it’s a new Netflix original series which looks like it was produced in the late 1970s or the ’80s. Only it wasn’t.
Created, written and directed by the twins Matt and Ross Duffer, Stranger Things belongs to the decade that gave us definitive sci-fi and horror films such as E.T., Goonies, Predator, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist and Evil Dead. If you look carefully, you can see references peppered across the series in various shots, sequences and plot devices. For children of the ’80s and ’90s, the trailer alone sparks off a craving for child adventurers on bikes, government conspiracies, science fiction, and the ever-incredible Winona Ryder.
Stranger Things is a ’80s sci-fi flick in eight parts, each of which is designed as a trip down nostalgia lane. Right from the title graphics inspired by a Stephen King paperback and the opening credits that pay homage to the Star Trek movies, the show transports viewers into a familiar pop culture landscape. Stranger Things is set in Hawkins in Indiana in 1983. The disappearance of Will Byers, son of Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), is accompanied by the sudden and accidental arrival of an almost mute, mysterious girl, cryptically named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). Will’s friends, the science nerds Mike, Dustin and Lucas, keep Eleven hidden in Mike’s basement, just like in E.T, while they hunt for Will. They refuse to believe that Will is dead, like his grief-stricken mother Joyce, who has converted the walls of her home into an Ouija board of sorts to reach out to Will.
Meanwhile, police chief James Hopper (David Harbour) uncovers a government conspiracy and a laboratory that performs scientific experiments on children that is straight out of Aliens. All this while, a typical high school love triangle plays out between the good girl, the high school jerk and the oddball living on the periphery. For good measure, there’s also a Jaws-meets-Predator-meets-Poltergeist-meets-Aliens creature that lives in a parallel reality referred to as The Upside Down.
While Winona is the star attraction here, Stranger Things rides on the brilliant performances of the four child actors. The kids are in a real-life simulation of Dungeons and Dragons, and yet, they don’t take themselves seriously enough for it to seem contrived. They are a group of pre-teens who are awkward around girls, and they sincerely believe that a bloodthirsty monster can be beaten with a slingshot. But they are also the ones who find the gate to the underworld with the help of their trusted compasses, and they actually build a Minority Report-ish sensory deprivation tank at one point.
Eleven is a force to be reckoned with. Millie Bobby Brown doesn’t have much dialogue in the series, but she speaks volumes with her eyes, displaying anger, pain, helplessness and confusion with equal and remarkable adeptness. She remains a wonder from episode one to the last.
With Stranger Things, Netflix has faithfully recreated an era of entertainment unlike few remakes and adaptations. The show doesn’t look like a cheap imitation of the 1980s but belongs to it. Even though it is loaded with references to pop culture icons from the ’70s and ’80s, Stranger Things is not overwhelming for an audience that may not have seen the classics of that period. Whether you’ve lived through the ’80s or not, it is a must-watch.