I’ve decided that, for any TV reviews (and maybe old films) I’ll do it a bit differently to Film Reviews.
For one, there’ll be spoilers. Otherwise I’ll tie myself in knots trying to describe a show without spoiling it. I’m also going to try a different format for these: if it works or doesn’t let me know!
So, using series 1 of Stranger Things as a starting point, here we go:
That title sequence: The creepy, synth-y score, the Stranger Things logo in the Stephen King-style font, the fact it looks like it’s been recorded on a worn VHS; it all set the tone perfectly.
The kids: The five main kid characters (including Will) were great. You completely believed in their friendship and they all brought something different to the dynamic. Millie Brown was excellent as wide-eyed Eleven too.
Winona Ryder and David Harbour: Both of their characters – the grieving mother and the police chief with issues – were pretty stock roles, but they not only avoided becoming irritating cliches, you were still rooting for them at the end.
It was (a bit) scary: It wasn’t an out-and-out horror by any means, but it was pretty effective at ramping up the tension. And there were a few jump-scares too; mainly the scene where Nancy and Jonathan hunt the monster in the woods.
Steve: Steve (Joe Keery) was a bit of a prat, but I actually liked his arc. I was expecting him to go from ‘uncaring jock boyfriend’ to ‘full-on baddie’ by the end of the series. He skirted close to it, but pulled himself back, ultimately helping Nancy and Jonathan to fend off the monster.
The Nostalgia Factor: I know some people have had an issue with this – and I have a wider complaint about certain films feeling like Nostalgia-thons – but I liked it here. Maybe (probably) because it’s referencing a bunch of things I like: 80’s horror films and the collected works of Stephen King.
The Monster: It actually looked fine in the shadows – and was pretty effective there – but up close in the final episode it betrayed the relatively low budget of the series.
Dr. Brenner: Again, a caveat to this being that Matthew Modine did a good job with what he had. But his character was pretty one note (he’s just bad). His relationship to the Upside-Down was a bit unclear too. He didn’t know about the monsters initially? And how did it work with Eleven hearing Cold War secrets?
Nancy and Jonathan: Their flourishing romance was believable-ish. I understood it on his part, but I wasn’t entirely sold on her feelings. They were obviously brought together by a tense situation, but he did photograph her, semi-naked, from the trees. She’s obviously more willing to accept creepy behaviour than I am.
The decision to use the same cast/story for season 2: Everyone I’ve spoken to disagrees, but I wish they’d just wrapped up this story in one series. Up until the last episode – which left things annoyingly unresolved – it felt completely comfortable as a standalone series, True Detective-style.
The last episode left threads open for Will, Eleven, Dr. Brenner and the teenage love triangle, but it could have resolved all of these. I was willing to accept Eleven dying to save her friends (or surviving, if they’d preferred a happier ending) and left Will’s link to the Upside Down as a dark coda. They could have dealt with some of Dr. Brenner’s backstory in earlier episodes and, meh, who cares about the love triangle?
We could have had a new set of characters, in a new place, riffing on yet more 80’s horror nostalgia under the Stranger Things banner. Instead, we’ll go back to the Upside Down to save someone. Again.
Overall, it was excellent. A really enjoyable nostalgia-fest that didn’t overstay its welcome. I just wished they’d called it quits there.