I review a whole season rather than individual episodes, so there is a chance of spoilers. If you haven’t watched the whole season yet, stop reading now!
A lot of people praise the nostalgia element of Stranger Things, how it mimics some of the great 80s movies so well, riffing on iconic scenes and staging it like a film from that decade. Stranger Things is so much more than that though and the real success is in a story which is well-written and a cast which bring it to life so convincingly.
It would be a difficult job if done poorly. Stranger Things defies catagorisation. Part fantasy, part sci-fi, part family-drama and part mystery, Stranger Things manages to juggle many different story-lines but piecing them together into an 8 episode, perfectly structured tale. There is so much to Stranger Things that there isn’t a moment to feel bored or that a story is starting to drag because before you know it, more of the pieces come into play.
The main mystery may be where Winona Ryder’s son, Will, has disappeared to but within that first episode we are also introduced to a girl with special powers, a shady Government agency and a monster! It all makes for compelling viewing and Stranger Things doesn’t relent once.
Part of this is to do with how well the mystery is drip-fed. Rather than stack the first half of the season with loads of questions and then wait until the final episode to answer them all, the audience is given enough information to be able to work it out for themselves, teasing the actual resolution and reveal of the mystery. It makes for an exciting watch as you work the mystery out before the characters and then will-them on to figure it out for themselves.
This wouldn’t work as effectively if the characters were not so great. Stranger Things is stacked with different characters, each making-up their own sub-plot, but you’d struggle to find a story you don’t care about. From Natalie Dyer’s Nancy and her love triangle between bad boy Joe Keery and weird boy Charlie Heaton, through to the desperate small-town sheriff trying to solve the case, played by an excellent David Harbour. Winona Ryder also gives a great, dramatic performance as the missing boy’s Mother and sells the grief well, alongside the flickers of hope too.
The real stars are the child cast though. Like any good 80s movie, the kids take on the adventure as well and the three boys who find themselves wrapped-up in the mystery, trying to find their lost friend, are the most entertaining aspect of the whole show. Mike, Dustin and Lucas, played by Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin respectively, steal the show as they bicker, decipher clues and generally find themselves in over their heads.
They would be the best performances in the series if it wasn’t for the aforementioned girl with superpowers, Eleven, played by an incredible Millie Bobby Brown. Her story is one of the most intense and asks for more than any of the other cast members, something she handles with little issue as she holds her own in among a great cast. She also gets the most fitting of ends, although hopefully we’ll see more of her in the future.
Or maybe not. Stranger Things is a great, self-contained story. If it had been announced that this would be a mini-series rather than a continuing one, that wouldn’t be a great loss. It had a neat resolution, a clear end-point and although there was a great tease, it wasn’t one which necessarily needs developing.
Overall, Stranger Things is a rare prospect in that it manages to juggle drama, sci-fi, fantasy, horror and even some great humour, wrapped in an 80s nostalgia package. Intertwining stories, great cast and some memorable moments make for a near-perfect series which must be watched.
Best Episode – The Upside Down: The finale had everything you wanted, action, drama and a neat conclusion to the great series.
Best performance – Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven
Should there be another season? – Yes and no. If Stranger Things is a title for a series of different, unrelated stories then yes but if we return to these characters again, I can’t see it working.
Rating – 5!
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)