Review: Stranger Things

4 stars
In revisiting 1980s sci-fi/horror themes, Stranger Things manages to be more homage than rip-off

Stranger Things is one of last year’s big Netflix hits. We finally found the time to watch the first season and quite enjoyed it.

The series borrows liberally from many 1970s-1980s books and movies (Stephen King’s “Firestarter”, Richard Donner’s “The Goonies”, Ridley Scott’s “Alien”) to tell its story of a bunch of kids investigating the disappearance of a friend. They are up against evil government agents and, well, stranger things.

This could have turned into a series of tropes, but the talented actors (kids and adults alike), the well-paced plot, and the lovingly crafted sets and special effects make the show a joy to watch from start to finish. David Harbour shines as Police Chief Jim Hopper, gradually revealing his character’s depth. Winona Ryder plays the distressed mother Joyce Byers convincingly, though a little bit less distress would have worked just as well.

The kid actors all do an admirable job, but Millie Bobbby Brown (El) and Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin) give especially memorable performances. The show’s weakest bits involve some bog standard high school drama, and the cardboard character government agents.

The show references its inspirations, but not in an obnoxious way. Stephen King is once mentioned by name, and other 80s pop culture bits are woven into the story where appropriate. Beyond that, there are many elegant visual references (link contains spoilers) .

If you haven’t gotten around to it, I definitely recommend watching the first season. You’ll be quickly pulled in, and if you grew up during the 80s, you might laugh out loud a few times, quite possibly confusing the hell out of any younger folks present.