TV Series Review
Something wicked this way comes … to the small hamlet of Hawkins, Indiana.
Worse yet, it was invited.
It all began in 1983, when a mysterious agency pried open a doorway to another, darker realm. Those in the know called it the Upside Down, and some were lost to its inky void. Only a very few have found themselves in that world and made it back alive. Will Byers, then 12, was lost for days down there. And when he was finally rescued, he wasn't quite the same.
You'd think that everyone would've learned their lesson and sealed the doorway to the Upside Down forever.
Yeah, not so much.
Blame the Russians. That’s what pretty much every red-blooded American did back in 1985, when Stranger Things 3 opens. Even though the paranormally-gifted Eleven—excuse me, El—seemed to shut the door on the Upside Down for good a year before (in Season 2), our comrades back in the U.S.S.R. are trying to open another such portal. And somehow, even though the old Soviet Union is a good half-world away, Hawkins is still very much a piece of this Upside Down cake.
But El’s father, Sheriff Jim Hopper, thinks another evil’s afoot—one in the guise of El's bowl-coiffed boyfriend, Mike. Sure, they’ve all been through some tough times together. They’re three of the very few people who’ve seen what lurks in the Upside Down and lived to tell about it. But hey, that doesn’t give Mike license to moosh lips with his adopted teenage daughter. Why, if the Demogorgon does show its creepy face again, Jim just might give the critter directions to Mike’s house.
But romance is thick in Hawkins’ air this season—as thick as rat innards, really.
Jim has his eyes on Will’s mom, Joyce, even though Joyce still holds a torch for her former (and now dead) beau, Bob Newby. Mike’s sister, Nancy, is sleeping with Will’s brother, Jonathan—and she carpools with him to the local newspaper where they both work. Max and Lucas, friends of Will and Mike, are holding hands at the local mall. Dustin has a girlfriend, too—albeit a long-distance one he met at science camp.
Even Will has a stubbornly persistent suitor … the Upside Down's darkest denizen: the Mind Flayer. He feels it moving closer to him. To them all. The darkness can’t quit Will, apparently, and it won’t stop until it claims him—and everyone else.
E.T. Phone for Backup
Netflix's Stranger Things is a nostalgic sci-fi romp—a fond-but-freaky look at the 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 early adolescence, 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.
Close Encounters The series does give us a set of heroic tweens and teens, 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 and can disrespect the adults in their lives something awful. They play Dungeons & Dragons, which might set off alarms for parents concerned with its darker spiritual elements. And while these children seem to eschew alcohol and tobacco for the more esoteric pleasures of Tolkien, the adults they're around drink and smoke with abandon. When the scene shifts to the high-school set, sex (or the heady, fearful promise of it) never seems far away. And in Season 3, one of the characters comes out of the closet—something quite common today, but almost unheard of in the 1980s.
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. The show has gotten gorier as it has gone on, and death is rarely far away. 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
+July 4, 2019: "Chapter Three: The Case of the Missing Lifeguard"
+July 4, 2019: "Chapter Two: The Mall Rats"
+July 4, 2019: "Chapter One: Suzie, Do You Copy?"
+Stranger Things: Oct. 26, 2017 "Chapter One: MADMAX"
+Stranger Things: July 15, 2016 "The Vanishing of Will Byers"
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; Sadie Sink as Max; Paul Reiser as Dr. Owens; Dacre Montgomery as Billy Hargrove; Sean Astin as Bob Newby; Maya Hawke as Robin