One of the rarer televisional treats that this writer has seen for many a year has been 'Stranger Things', the latest slice of dynamite to be released from the Netflix hit factory. In fact some people are already talking about it as one of the finest TV series of all time. So what is it about 'Stranger Things' that is so addictive and alluring? Well, if you have seen it all (and if not, go and do so now!) then join for in-depth discussion in the 'upside-down'...
The first thing to say about 'Stranger Things' is that as a pastiche of the '80s supernatural/horror gamut it is note perfect, combining elements from 'E.T', 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', 'Silver Bullet', 'Stand By Me', 'IT' and many more (in fact Stephen King even gets a name-check). So the key parts of the genre are here reassembled into a lovingly constituted whole, reminding and reinventing the previous examples of the genre. It also has to be said that as a serialised horror story it works much better than, say, 'The Stand' did and is probably up there with the aforementioned 'IT'.
Another factor is that the '80s rarely sounded or looked better than this; lovingly recreating the feel of the time with note-perfect costumes and props and a magnificent synthwave soundtrack it has a production value that could only be achieved with genuine love. Even if the story didn't come up scratch it would still be an audio-visual feast.
But what really makes 'Stranger Things' so compelling is that whilst older viewers are drawn into their childhood the characters in it are losing theirs. Essentially the show is about the slow creeping darkness of adolescence, with unknown horrors lurking to disturb an innocent D&D game or a typical family dinner. The 'upside-down' is a non-too-subtle metaphor for the lives of the characters being turned upside-down (literally, in some cases); there's Eleven, her life scarred by abandonment, abuse and neglect; there's Will Byers, harrowed and changed by fear; Natalia and Finn both struggling to come to terms with the complications of conformity and the struggle to be yourself, as well as both Joyce and Hopper struggling with their separate guilt of failing to protect their children. In the last scene Will actually reminds the viewer of Frodo, back in the Shire from his travels – victorious, but tainted, diminished and haunted.
In this way the dark thrills of the show are a reminder of the dark thrills we experienced as children – the stories of local criminals or monsters under the bed, the awkwardness of our first relationships, or the peek from a high branch over the brooding barbed wire fence of a nearby power-station or government building, or even of watching a horror TV show, exactly like 'Stranger Things', so many years previously.
So the next time you see a distant, non-specific military site or a foreboding wood try and recall those old feelings that for most of us defined our adolescence – those of wonder, and dread. And re-watch 'Stranger Things' again, as soon as possible.