Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Stranger Things (Season 1)

There’s always going to be a market for nostalgia.  With Netflix, I have access to all manner of TV shows and movies that I watched as a child.  In fact, I just watched The Smurfs and the Magic Flute, a movie almost as old as I am, thanks to the fact that I could stream it through their service.  That’s another story, though.

Netflix has been producing original content for the past few years and one of their original shows takes place in the early 80s, back when Atari was still new and  Dungeons & Dragons still had a non-advanced version in production.  Stranger Things revolves around a group of four boys:  Dustin Henderson, Lucas Sinclair, Will Byers and Mike Wheeler.  They’re normal 12-year-old kids going to school during the week and playing D&D on the weekend.

The town of Hawkins, Indiana, is your normal, albeit fictional, small town.  They only notable exception is a secret-research facility that you might find in an episode of The X-Files or The Twilight Zone.  The town doesn’t know much about what goes on there.  That’s about to change.  First, Will goes missing.  When I say missing, I mean he actually disappears.  Around the same time, a girl escapes from the secret facility and makes her way to a local diner where the owner tries to help her.

The girl manages to find her way to Will’s three friends, who take to calling her Eleven from a tattoo on her arm.  Meanwhile, Will’s mother, Joyce, is distraught to the point of thinking that Will is trying to contact her from the other side.  I don’t know what you may have seen in coming attractions, but Joyce’s actions may seem like those of someone who doesn’t handle stress well.  Who can blame her?  Her son is missing and she can’t do anything about it.  I doubt I’d be able to remain calm.

The local police chief, Jim Hopper, tries to help her deal with her loss as best he can.  He tells Joyce to take some time to accept and deal with her grief.  The chief has enough to worry about.  Over the course of his investigation, he comes to realize that she might not be far off about what happened to Will.  He was willing to take the evidence at face value, but begins to wonder when he starts to dig deeper.

Chief Hopper also tells Will’s friends not to try and investigate.  (As if that ever worked.)  Dustin, Lucas, Mike and Eleven find that Will is trapped in some sort of alternate dimension, which Eleven calls The Upside Down.  The boys are out of their element, but Eleven was part of some strange experiments and at least knows what they’re up against.

One of the difficulty of dealing with a story like this is balance.  You’re probably wondering if this is full-on out there.  It’s very easy to have Joyce be this over-the-top grieving mother, but she’s not.  Winona Ryder is able to keep it to a believable level.  (After all, you’re not paranoid if they’re really out to get you.  Right?)  There’s also a temptation to go overboard with the 80s stuff.  The series is reminiscent of a lot of things, but doesn’t try to cram all manner of references into each episode.  (The one big product placement seems to be D&D)

It doesn’t look like Netflix is one to release its original content on DVD.  My understand is that it commissions content in hopes of driving subscriptions.  This may not be a bad thing, given the cost of DVD season sets compared to the price of a month of Netflix.  You might be better getting Netflix, especially if you’re not one to rewatch TV shows constantly.

Netflix does have a lot of original content, which makes paying for a month or two worth it.  (If I’m not mistaken, they’re currently offering a free month.  Check the Web site for details.)  This is definitely one of the series I’d recommend checking out if you’re in to shows like The X-Files and Twin Peaks.  It definitely has a similar feel to it.

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