Stranger Things, Season 1 (2016)

(Netflix Streaming, October 2017) I probably expected too much from this first season of Stranger Things. Considering the massive amount of praise that the show received upon release in the summer of 2016, that’s probably inevitable. Few things survive this amount of hype, but I still held some hope: After all, I grew up during the 1980s (albeit the late eighties), I am a fan of the King/Spielberg/Carpenter mash-up that is Stranger Things and I’m always willing to give a chance to genre stories. As it stands, Stranger Things is actually quite good. The eight episodes may be one or two too many, but the series does benefit from having the time to develop its characters, carefully unveil its mysteries and allow a more deliberate narrative arc than if it has rushed everything in fewer hours. The lead actors are sympathetic (the kids are great, Winona Ryder earns an unexpected hit and David Harbour ends up getting a very good role), the Duffer Brothers’ directing is competent and the action ramps up to a very good finale. Memorable, well executed and filled with nostalgic throwbacks, Stranger Things is about as good as Netflix-era TV gets. The problem with it is that it’s consciously referencing and aping other works. It’s comfort food, not meant to challenge but to elicit recognition. It doesn’t try to pull narrative rugs, play with deeper themes or explore new ideas—it’s a mash-up of familiar elements, executed in such a fashion as to beg for sympathy. As such, there’s a limit to how exciting it can be—while the result is good enough to warrant a look, I suspect that it will fade fast and have a harder time reaching those who don’t have a built-in nostalgia for the eighties. On the other hand, I’ll watch the second seasons gladly … but only after I clean up the rest of my Netflix movie queue.

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