SPOILER FREE (mostly)
Tell me to watch the latest OITNB as it’s the best thing you’ve ever seen; tell me I should be up to speed on Game of Thrones, or that The Walking Dead is still the essential TV show to be hooked on… and chances are I’ll ignore you. When somebody extols the virtues of a TV show so much it becomes annoying, I tend to switch off.
But from the minute I saw the synopsis for Stranger Things I knew it would be for me. If you’ve been living under a social media rock, here is the setup:
1983. Small town Indiana. Four 12 year old nerds, Will, Mike, Dustin and Lucas, finish a game of Dungeons and Dragons. And then on his way home, via the shady Dawkins Laboratory on the edge of town, Will is snatched right off his BMX bike. His mom Joyce and brother Jonathan become obsessed with finding him, whilst big beary butch Chief Hopper, between donuts and coffee, starts to realise there’s more to their little town than meets the eye.
The day after it came out, I thumbed my nose at my broken Smart TV and hooked up the laptop to get my fix. And I got sucked in quicker than a sixth grader at a portal to another dimension…
I’ve watched all 8 episodes in a few days, viewing the last 3 in one fell swoop last night. I was expecting excitement, I was expecting horror, I was expecting cool synths. What I wasn’t expecting was to be a blubbing emotional wreck by the end! I don’t have to hit you with spoilers to tell you why.
We’ve all raved about the show and listed its references, from The Goonies to The Gate, from ET to Stand By Me. The show is the perfect storm of 80s nostalgia. And for me that’s about as emotive as you can get. Those innocent days when a trip to the video shop was the most exciting part of your week. When, with your friends or your rapidly-impatient-growing mother you’d immerse yourself in gaudy cover art and damp-smelling plastic cases and be transported.
Even when you weren’t allowed to buy Prom Night you got to read the synopsis and see the trashy stills on the back and you were there, in the ‘Upside Down’ of your reality, you were wrapped in this bubble of heart-pounding excitement but also safety. Warmth. So to see a show evoke that feeling, populate it with the kind of kids you WERE at the time and then pull you so deeply into their world, it’s pretty damn special.
What it gets so right is that rite of passage for anyone battling through adolescence. When suddenly your best friend in the world is more interested in a girl than in playing Atari with you, like when Mike starts to fall for Eleven, leaving Lucas and Dustin on the sidelines. It’s that anger you feel, that sadness and desperation when the world you’ve built around you begins to shift.
When Nancy wants to run with the cool kids and leaves her awkward bumbling pal Barb sat alone at the swimming pool, not only does Barb’s world shatter… the whole world does. Literally. And struggling to cope with the worst kind of loss, Joyce (Winona Ryder) clings to her son Jonathan amongst the wreckage and tells him he’s not alone. The simplest sentence but the biggest mouthful a mother can tell her awkward teenage son. The kind of things you wish you’d said but you didn’t. The weight of their performances, the clarity of this writing, is heartbreaking. And the final straw came when Chief Hopper’s backstory was finally explained in a series of short, sharp scenes that opened the flood gates. This cool retro 80s sci fi thriller has got a lot more going for it than a nod to ET…
So Winona Ryder might have played it a little too high a little too long. So I thought it kinda sagged around episode 5 and there were a few too many flashbacks to scenes in the same or previous episode. Minor quibbles. The only thing bigger than the lumbering shadowy monster in the woods around Hawkins National Laboratory, is the heart that beats at the centre of this show.
If you were bullied for being a nerd? It’s got you. If you sat rapt with excitement as the big red V descended on to your screen to synthy sci fi music when you were allowed to stay up late and watch V: The Final Battle? It’s got you. If your geeky best friends were your entire world, and it broke your heart when adulthood started to creep in? It’s got you.
It got me right in the kisser. It’s the VHS dream. And it’s the video tape I don’t want to return after a weekend rental!