TV Review: Stranger Things, Season 1

Stranger Things is a Netflix original series written and created by Matt and Ross Duffer. Upon hearing how cool and brilliant this show was, I, as usual, became skeptical. Especially since this was a Netflix original series. Most of the Netflix shows I have watched have been mediocre or decent. Their first huge hit, House of Cards, had a terrific first and second season. However, the creators of the show insisted that the show continue, despite obviously reaching its peak climax toward the end of season 2. I quickly lost interest in the series and have not watched it since.

The same was true for the Netflix/Marvel team-up, Daredevil. After an excellent first season, it seemed that the writers didn’t really know how to continue the series, and the quality of the show suffered heavily because of this.

All that being said, my point is that Netflix seems to have a problem with keeping people interested in its shows, no matter how great they are, when they first begin streaming. Shows like Breaking BadMad Men, and Game of Thrones all gained popularity as the shows progressed because the creators were able to maintain the same quality of writing, directing, and especially performances from a handful of terrific actors and actresses. 

In any case, I decided to finally give Stranger Things a try a few weeks ago. Without going into too much detail right now, I’ll say that I was immediately captivated by this show and had no choice but to finish the entire season in one night.

 

Writing: 7.7/10

Barring a drop in quality once the second season is completed, I think Stranger Things is probably one of the best written shows that exists right now. I would not hesitate to put it up with heavy hitters like Breaking Bad and True Detective. The admiration that the Duffer Brothers have for writers like Stephen King and Steven Spielberg is made very apparent throughout the show.

Stranger Things acts as an homage to everything that made the 80’s a great decade for film and literature, especially in the Sci-Fi genre. The show’s story and themes borrow liberally from Spielberg’s sense of imagination and wonder, King’s creativity, and even a little from John Carpenter’s directing style. Some might consider it a straight up rip-off, but I think it was more of a “borrowing out of respect,” because ultimately this show wants to take you back to that decade. If it was stealing, it would take place in 2016 instead of the early 1980’s.

One of the things that really captivated me is how the primary story arc is split into three different sub-stories that all represent their own genres (a Spielberg-esque adventure story, a John Carpenter teen horror flick, and a government conspiracy detective sotry). Even with this split, the show is still able to nicely match the tones and themes of each story because of how they’re all interconnected.

The only problems I had with the writing in the show is that one of these sub-stories often has a difficult time keeping up with the weight and seriousness of the other two,. So, when the episode cuts to that sub-story, it kind of takes you out of the stakes and sometimes seems kind of silly. 

The other thing is that the show does have a hard time wrapping everything up in a neat little bow. Parts of the last two episodes seem really rushed and unexplained (even the characters run around and pretend like they have no time for questions, answers, or sound and logical plans). The only thing I could do was yell at characters for being so stupid since I had become so invested in them all.

 

Acting: 9.2/10

Speaking of characters, this show has some of the best written younger men and women that I have ever seen in a show or movie. They feel real and say things that you would expect kids their age to say. The actors themselves don’t overact like you expect most child actors to do, so you really get the feel that they are literally playing themselves.

That is, with the exception of Millie Bobby Brown’s character, El. Brown’s performance astounded me. I would not be surprised in the least if we start to see a lot more of her in upcoming movies.

A few other notable performances came from Winona Ryder and David Harbour, who was probably my favorite part of the show and one of the best written police officers in any TV show that I’ve ever seen.

 

Visuals: 8/10

While Stranger Things would definitely have a hard time competing with shows like Breaking Bad and Mr. Robot when it comes to visuals like directing and editing, it’s not to be ignored. Like I mentioned earlier, it certainly takes ques from John Carpenter and even J.J. Abrams to craft dark, yet stunning time piece.

One issue I found with the visuals is one that seems to plague a lot of TV shows due to budget constraints, but the use of CGI for the creature in this series is pretty sub-par. I wished that the creators would have taken even more from Carpenter and Spielberg by doing their best to implement some sort of practical effect for the creature, like a costume or even an animatronic, but alas, not everyone is perfect.

 

Music: 8/10

The original score and soundtrack for Stranger Things do an excellent job of paying their respects to the music of the 80’s. The suspenseful and retro score reminded me of themes from John Carpenter films, and even more recently, the score of Jeff Nichols’ film, Midnight Special.

 

X-Factor: 9/10, for making me really want to play Dungeons and Dragons for the first time in my life.

 

Overall: 8.4/10

The first season of Stranger Things is so great that I still have a hard time believing that it is a Netflix original series. While I would not say that it is the best show currently airing/streaming on TV/online (it’d have a hard time keeping up with Game of Thrones and Mr. Robot), I will say that it definitely deserves your time and would highly encourage anyone with a Netflix account to plan a time to watch it with friends and family, especially if you consider yourself a fan of Stephen King novels or classic Spielberg films. 

 

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