What I love about Stranger Things

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strangerJeff and I finished watching the new Netflix series, Stranger Things, on Thursday night, giving me plenty of time to reflect on the show and mourn that it’s over (at least for now). Here’s a list of some of the things I loved about this show:

  • The music, of course. Who didn’t get a big grin on their face when the first episode ended with Toto’s “Africa”? Who hadn’t forgotten The Bangles’ cover of “Hazy Shade of Winter,” hidden in the long shadow cast by “Walk Like an Egyptian”? There’s 80s music that’s played so much that it loses its 80s veneer altogether, becoming just the generic soundtrack of commercials and sporting events. Then there’s the music that fell through the cracks. The songs that you haven’t heard in years and so have the magical power to take you right back there. The ones you sang alone to by yourself in your bedroom. That 80s music. And watching the kids interact with it, you remember how much the music meant. How cool it was to be able to listen to The Clash on a boombox. A boombox, folks. Back when you had to work for your music. Back when you really would just sit on your bed listening to “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
  • What did you do before the internet when you wanted to know something? You called your high school science teacher at ten o’clock at night to ask him about sensory deprivation chambers. Duh.
  • The phone, etc. Not the phone that Will uses to communicate with his mom. I don’t remember whose phone it was in the show, but there was a moment when someone picked up a phone and all I could think was, “I had that phone! I remember that phone!” And it was a cool phone at the time, a step up from the rotary phones that my grandma still had on her desk in the hall. The buttons glowed! And I remember when my sister and I got our own phone, in our own room. It looked like that phone and perhaps everything else in my life has been downhill from the moment when we got our own phone. You get the idea, but the phone is just one example of all the wonderful, nostalgic stuff that populates the show.
  • The resonance with every great 80s movie ever made. My list keeps getting longer, but…Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Goonies, Sixteen Candles, War Games, Poltergeist, Stand By Me. And more I’m sure I’m missing.
  • This phone, only ours was more of a beige color.

    This phone, only ours was more of a beige color.

  • Was it just me, or was the font they used for the title and the chapter titles the same font you saw on all the choose-your-own-adventure books?
  • The meta-moment in the last episode. The boys are playing Dungeons and Dragons and frustrated at all the unfinished story lines from their game, which mirror the unanswered questions in the series itself. I love when shows make fun of themselves a little bit–it was part of what I loved about Buffy.
  • Scary! This show is scary as shit, on top of everything else. Scary is hard in today’s world of blood and gore and CGI. Old-fashioned scary is still the best scary, though.
  • Great story-telling. This may because we just came off watching Vikings, which is not good story-telling. But when Hopper stands at the top of the quarry and tells the story about how you can’t survive the fall from there, and then later, that story he told becomes important? As a writer, you just breath a contented little sigh in those moments. Oh, look how they did that. They knew where they were going. They planned ahead so that when we came to that moment with Mike standing in the same spot, we would know everything we needed to know. We are in good story-telling hands here, and thank goodness for that. So hard to do. So important. So satisfying.
  • Indiana! It was set in Indiana. It actually looked like Indiana, too! There was a quarry! There are lots of quarries in Indiana! It looked like Indiana, unlike, say Justified, which is supposed to be in Harlan, Kentucky, only there are bouganvillea hedges, which don’t grow in Kentucky. And scrub and California mountains, and don’t get me started on it. I believed they might really be in Indiana and unlike, say, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the point of being in Indiana was not to make fun of the backward-nesss of people who don’t live in New York.
  • The consistent veer toward goodness. There were so many moments in this show when I thought to myself, “Ah, I know who this character is.” Hopper was going to be that drunken, n’er-do-well, vaguely bully-like small-town cop. Nope. He’s a smart, wounded and compassionate guy. Steve, Nancy’s boyfriend, is going to be the living reincarnation of every bully/asshole guy in every John Hughes movie, only worse, because even in those movies, the bully/asshole had his issues. Nope. Steve, like so many of the characters, will veer toward goodness in the end. The boys–Mike, Dustin and Lucas–will only ever be mean to each other for short bursts. In the end, they’ll do what’s right. They’ll forgive each other. They’ll shake on it. I guess it says something about the world we’re living in that the veer toward goodness is the unexpected plot move. It made Stranger Things refreshing and real, like a sweet tonic in an ugly and sometimes scary world.

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