TV Series Review
He was there. And then he wasn't.
Twelve-year-old Will Byers disappeared without a trace, sometime after a Dungeons & Dragons session with his three best friends. He never showed up at school the next day. The only thing he left behind was his bike, abandoned by the side of the road.
It's 1983, so there are no cell phones to trace, no security cameras to consult. Will's frazzled working mother, Joyce, is desperate with worry. Police Chief Jim Hopper is at a loss to know where to begin the investigation. It's not like he's had a lot of opportunities to practice real police work in sleepy Hawkins, Ind. In the four years he's been on the job, the worst crime he's dealt with was the time an owl mistook a local's new 'do for a nest.
And, frankly, his enthusiasm for law enforcement faded the day his own daughter died. Now he's content to spend most of his days with donuts and coffee, beer and cigarettes. Maybe a prescription pill or two. Finding a missing garden gnome? Hopper's your man. A missing child? That's a little out of his league.
But while Will hasn't reappeared, plenty of other mysterious things have shown up in his place. There's the strange stuff oozing from beneath the Byers' home, bizarre music emanating from Will's old room. Strange folk from the nearby lab are skulking around town, carrying weapons and occasionally shooting the odd, unlucky townsperson.
Then there's the girl who mysteriously materialized just as Will vanished. Known only by the number 11 tattooed on her wrist, she doesn't talk much. Maybe she can't. No matter: The telekinetic powers she manifests speak for themselves. Sometimes they scream.
But none of this changes the fact that Will is still missing. Hopper is flummoxed. The folks with guns are up to no good. And it looks as if Will's fate may depend on his friends: Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts, Lord of the Rings fanboys and proud members of Hawkins Middle School's AV club, all. Mike, Dustin and Lucas may not be the most popular kids. And sure, they have their own problems. But maybe they—with a little help from the strange girl dubbed Eleven—can find and rescue Will when no one else can.
E.T. Phone for Backup
Netflix's Stranger Things is a nostalgic sci-fi romp—a fond-but-freaky look at the early 1980s that may, in some ways, outdo the decade that spawned it. The soundtrack is pure cheesy synthesizer. Hair is gloriously feathered. Walkie-talkies are the size of cinder blocks. So maybe it's fitting that the show owes a great deal to the two Steves that dominated pop culture during the decade: Stephen King and Steven Spielberg.
If you look at their respective bodies of work from the 1980s—King's It and The Body (the short story upon which the movie Stand by Me was based) and Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Goonies and others—there's often a sense that there's something special about age 12, teetering as we do on the edge separating childhood from adulthood. It's at that strange, magical age when the world seems most pregnant with possibilities … even if the fetus inside may have fangs and tentacles and could devour us all.
Fittingly, Stranger Things is an equally mixed bag.
The series does give us a set of heroic tweens bent on saving a friend's life, along with a bevy of caring (if somewhat distracted) adults who'd like to do the same. As such, it's a story of empowerment, one that scratches the itch of many a geeky 12-year-old who doesn't feel very powerful at all. (And given the fact that I was also a geeky 12-year-old in the 1980s, this show holds a particular, rather peculiar charm for me.)
But when you take inspiration from King and Spielberg circa the 1980s, you're gonna run headlong into problems, too. Sure, their stories purportedly whisk us back to more innocent days. But when you meet their characters, they're often anything but.
The kids here, like their Steve-ish literary and cinematic forebears, can swear like testosterone-deficient sailors. They play Dungeons & Dragons, which might set off alarms for parents concerned with its darker spiritual elements. And while these preteens seem to eschew alcohol and tobacco for the more esoteric pleasures of Tolkien, the adults they're around drink and smoke with abandon. Moreover, Mike's high school-age sister, Nancy, is plunging headlong into a frighteningly physical relationship with preppy hunk Steve Harrington.
And let's not forget that despite its pint-size protagonists and nostalgia-laden atmosphere, Stranger Things is as much a horror story as it is science fiction. There may indeed be aliens here, but if so they're certainly not bonding with little boys or phoning home. Even though the violence hasn't been particularly bloody, death is not uncommon. The monsters, and many of the men, are out for blood. And they're not above spattering a bit of it across the screen.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers; David Harbour as Jim Hopper; Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler; Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven; Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson; Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair; Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler; Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers; Cara Buono as Karen Wheeler; Matthew Modine as Dr. Martin Brenner; Joe Keery as Steve Harrington