I’ve decided to take some time to write about Stranger Things, the second season of which I am currently in the middle of watching. Today, I’m going to take the time to talk about what hooked me into the series’ first season and made me love it. Later, I’ll be talking about the flaws I see in it, and if I have time, I may start examining the episodes as i watch them. This is by way of being an experiment, and who knows: it may spark a conversation.
I’m going to have to say first off that one of the things that really draws me to this series is the setting: for a geeky/nerdy kid who grew up in the eighties and was almost the same age as these kids (Actually, I’d have been about three or four grades behind them), this is a wonderful series. It reminds me of Stand By Me if that had been one of Stephen King’s supernatural thrillers, rather than a coming-of-age story of dealing with the mundane evils of the world. And I loved Stand By Me. Actually, Stranger Things feels to me like someone asked themselves what Stand By Me would be like if you mashed it up with IT. But it has an innocence that has never been part of King’s writing. However, I can’t really talk about the feel with any critical value. You either like it or you don’t. I will say that it fits with my memories of what the eighties were like exactly. So on to the things I feel are actually worthy of analysis:
The characters aren’t idiots. Everyone passably familiar with the horror/thriller genre knows about knows that the easiest way for the characters to get themselves in trouble is to do incredibly stupid things. “Let’s chant the ritual in Latin! What could go wrong?” “The monster is after us! Let’s hide in the basement of the deserted farmhouse! It will never look there!”
By contrast, the characters in Stranger Things are observant, and yes, they take a lot of time to catch up with what we know to be true, but that is part of the horror element. Joyce is experiencing things that are very similar to things a grief-crazed mother might experience. She has proof that Will is alive, but it’s not proof she can show to anyone. Gradually, the other characters acquire similar proofs that demand they trust one another and allow them to take action.
Even the Evil Scientist isn’t stupid. Sure, he’s cruel and unethical as hell. But when his experiment succeeds in a direction he never guessed, he does something that is eminently reasonable: he tries to make peaceful contact with the alien species he has discovered. He is of course horrifically wrong to do this, but that’s not something he could have reasonably known.
The characters are flawed. All the characters we get to know are victims of their emotional flaws. Joyce was already a bit crazed about her responsibilities before Will disappeared, which makes it difficult for people to trust her. El deceives her new friends because she wants to keep them safe, rather than honestly balking them. And Mike and Lucas are each strong-willed enough about their own desires to lead the party in their own ways that they end up breaking it, nearly fatally.
Even the most flawed characters are redeemable. Steve Harrington and Nancy are pretty much typically selfish teenagers driven by their own desires and peer pressure. Jonathan, Will’s brother, becomes a stalker in lieu of any productive social life. Yet Nancy and Jonathan rise above their extremely bad beginning to become allies, and even Steve, who starts out as a quintessential cowardly asshole, redeems himself with a fair amount of courage, which costs him both physically and socially.
Well, that’s all for now. Tomorrow I’ll nitpick some of the flaws.