Stranger Things is a science fiction/horror mash-up with large slab-like doses of 80s nostalgia and references.
Taking in all manner of influences from movies like E.T., the works of Stephen King, and even some modern takes like the evil mirror universe styling of Silent Hill.
Whilst the pop culture references are fun and plentiful, what Stranger Things does so well is take the essence of that investigative child-like glee in movies such as The Goonies, and fuse it into a terrifying world-ending danger, where (as usual) no-one believes the damn kids.
Writers and showrunners, The Duffer Brothers, reportedly shopped it around several studios before Netflix picked it up. Most studios wanted to shift focus away from the young central cast of children and instead focus on the adults.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s difficult to see how this would have worked because the tone of the show relies on the very nature of blending everyday youthful problems (like who to ask to the dance or how to try and be cool), along with falling deeper and deeper into otherworldly peril.
What Is Stranger Things About?
Set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, Stranger Things follows the story of four 12-year-old Dungeons and Dragons players.
In episode one, one of their number disappears without a trace, leading to his mother (played by Winona Ryder) turning to more and more desperate means to find him.
Thrown into the mix is a spate of oddly paranormal events, and the mystery surrounding a shaven-headed young girl who has escaped from Hawkins Laboratory and has ‘eleven’ tattooed on her arm.
We quickly learn she has psychokinetic abilities and is being pursued by people who will stop at nothing to track her down.
Season 1 paces itself perfectly with this setup. Other usual small-town characters are introduced (typical douche jocks, popular girls who doubt themselves, a gruff and alcoholic Sheriff) and their subplots revolve around the central mysteries nicely.
And when we do occasionally slip into the eerie ‘otherworld’ the fear and tension is palpable. The show does a great job of making this seem like a dangerous place just on the edge of perception, pushing to break through to our reality.
All this culminates in brave feats, accomplished story arcs, plenty of answers (with a few questions held back), and a nail-biting climax.
Stranger Things Official Trailer
Stranger Things Season 2
With season 1 such a buzzy hit, season 2 had a lot to live up to. However, when revisiting Hawkins for more of the same there were definitely some issues.
These issues are the inherent sort you get from wrapping things up so nicely before. New characters get introduced that don’t gel so well, and the joy of that all shining moment when the gang get together and achieve something wonderful is broken up with our gang going separate ways a lot.
Eleven is in hiding with Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and her plotline sends her off to find out about her true family, and meet more people with abilities along the way.
However, this feels more like a set of motions that need to be gone through in order to set her up for later action, and her absence from the main group means that they end up descending more into pubescent squabbling rather than investigations.
That said, once the action ramps up (devil dogs chase scenes anyone?!) the tension is still edge of your seat stuff.
Is Stranger Things Worth Watching?
The young cast provides a mixed blessing as their youth gives the show such verve, but their bickering over childish things can grate somewhat.
There is only so many times you can see resident livewire Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) defend looking after his clearly extremely dangerous….thing….that he’s found and not want to yell at the stupidity on display.
But when together they spark off each other wonderfully. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is the shy ‘de facto leader’ of the group who gets plenty to do in season 1 but is more or less sidelined in season 2.
Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) adds more comedy value with his exasperation at Dustin’s foolishness.
Breakout star though is clearly Eleven (Mille Bobbie Brown from Godzilla vs Kong), who performs with a wonderful blend of intensity and vulnerability even when her actual plot lines vary in quality.
Even if season 2 was essentially ‘more of the same but not as good’, Stranger Things is still an excellent show.
The 80s nostalgia, for the most part, is weaved into the fabric with well-placed music, references, and tonal nods.
It’s like watching an adult horror Goonies with modern sensibilities but a retro setting.
As a stand-alone show, season 1 is pretty flawless. So it was fascinating to see where season 3 went from here.
So long as the balance between youthful exuberance and Clive Barker-esque terror is well kept then there is plenty of material left to mine.
Oh, and #JusticeforBarb!
Words by Michael Record
How Many Seasons Of Stranger Things?
Stranger Things is a sci-fi horror drama series created by the Duffer Brothers for Netflix. There are currently four seasons with the first dropping on July 15, 2016.
The second and third season followed in October 2017 and July 2019 respectively. Season four season aired in two parts in 2022.
It was at this point that Stranger Things was renewed for a fifth and final season.
With eight episodes planned, the season was written and just as production was due to begin in May 2023, the Writers Guild of America strike began.
So for now the filming has been postponed indefinitely. Given how long it takes to film and work on post production, it looks like we won't get Stranger Things season 5 until 2025.
Stranger Things Cast
Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers, the mother of Will and Jonathan Byers.
David Harbour as Jim Hopper, chief of Hawkins Police Department.
Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler, middle child of Karen and Ted Wheeler, brother of Nancy and Holly, and one of three friends of Will Byers.
Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven, a teen girl with telepathic and psychokinetic abilities, a result of being one of Dr. Brenner's subjects from Hawkins National Laboratory.
Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson, one of Will Byers' friends.
Noah Schnapp as Will Byers, the son of Joyce Byers and younger brother of Jonathan Byers.
Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair, one of Will's friends. He is wary of Eleven but later befriends her.
Sadie Sink (The Whale) as Max Mayfield, Billy's younger stepsister.
Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler, daughter of Karen and Ted and older sister of Mike and Holly.
Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers, the older brother of Will Byers and the son of Joyce Byers.
Cara Buono as Karen Wheeler, mother of Nancy, Mike, and toddler Holly.
Matthew Modine as Martin Brenner, the scientist in charge of Hawkins Laboratory and training Eleven.
Joe Keery as Steve Harrington, a popular high school student and the boyfriend of Nancy Wheeler.