Stranger Things season two may have won the hearts of Netflix viewers, but when you strip away the 80’s nostalgia and references it smothers itself in, does it really hold up?
Yes, everyone loves the 80s – it appeals to those who have lived through it, allowing them to experience the nostalgia factor, and it also speaks to everyone else who simply enjoys the music, films and bizarre look of the time – specifically the loud outfits and even louder hair. But how much of the appeal of the show leans on this and subsequently messes with our emotions through its reliance on this magical period? While Stranger Things wears its pop culture heart on its pop culture sleeve, borrowing from the wonder of Spielberg, the horror of John Carpenter and the kids-riding-on-bikes-in-a-suburban-neighbourhood-ness of Stephen King, it is essentially just clinging to the tailbacks of these geniuses. 75 percent of the series is reliant on these big nudges to the audience, reminding them how great the 80’s really was – with a Star Wars reference here, an X-Men comic being passed around there and a cheeky Evil Dead poster in the background.
While this may sound extremely cynical, when you take away the 80s backdrop – a time period which has been done to death on TV and film – what really makes Stranger Things special? Your answer will most likely be the child actors, and this is indeed the other 25 percent of the show’s magic: hiring child actors who don’t sound like they’re reading off a script while acting like normal human kids on camera. However, surely we should expect decent child actors considering they are the heart of the show. People seem to forget that there are actually good child actors among the shockingly awful, look at Haley Joel Osment’s Oscar nominated performance in The Sixth Sense. While the performances are good in Stranger Things, they aren’t exactly equal to this performance, so next time someone says “weren’t the kids in Stranger Things good?”, simply reply “well you obviously haven’t seen Haley Joel Osment’s powerhouse Oscar nominated turn in M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 supernatural horror-thriller film The Sixth Sense. Exactly”.
Now, a question. Without mentioning the 80s setting (which allowed the writers to rip off other original ideas) or the good child actors (I reiterate: good, not great) – what makes Stranger Things deserving of all the hype? The story is fairly slow and rather predictable as you watch events unfold over eight 45 minute episodes, a narrative which feels like it could make a much more entertaining and concise two-hour film instead. The characters are fairly two-dimensional such as Winona Ryder’s one note performance as frantic, wide-eyed mother, Joyce Byers, who sadly falls into ‘annoying and slightly hysterical mother’ territory most of the time. However, praise must go to David Harbour’s tortured alcoholic police chief, Jim Hopper, a character on paper who sounds like a cliché but who Harbour allows us to sympathise with and care for throughout the series.
Having said this, I do think Stranger Things is a good TV show and has provided some genuinely memorable moments of television. Who can forget the image of the truck hovering metres above the children, or indeed any scene with Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven and her telekinetic powers? What I don’t understand is why everyone is proclaiming this sci-fi-horror series as the jewel in Netflix’s crown. Is it just me or is Stranger Things one of the most overhyped shows on TV at the moment? So, next time you recommend this series to one of your mates, just think about how strongly you praise it. Sometimes over-hyping a TV series can be the biggest crime you can commit.