I had high hopes for the new Netflix scifi series set in the eighties, Stranger Things. Unfortunately I expected it to be somewhat better than it was, although it did have some good aspects.
Stranger Things begins with four middle-school age boys playing a game, before the big-haired mom (I can only imagine how high Aqua Net’s stock was in the eighties) tells her son’s friends it’s time to go home. Walking back with their bikes, the boys split up, and Will finds himself being chased by…something. We don’t really get a good look at it this early in the show. He races home, where he attempts to hide out in the tool shed. Ultimately, he disappears and his three friends team up to find him.
Meanwhile, local police chief Jim (David Harbour) helps Will’s mom Joyce (Winona Ryder) and older brother Jonathan search for him, although half the time, the boys do a better job of investigating their friend’s disappearance. Meanwhile, they meet a mysterious girl they name Eleven, who seems to have super powers, sending people flying through the air and making a bully pee his pants.
In other news, because apparently the producers of this show felt the need to go after the CW audience in addition to scifi/horror fans, Jonathan falls for Nancy, the older sister of one of Will’s friends, who is dating a douchebag named Steve. In true horror movie fashion, she and Steve have sex while her friend Barb gets kidnapped by the same monster that took Will. Seriously, why couldn’t the monster eat Steve? Or this entire annoying subplot?
Midway through the series, the cops find a body that Joyce identifies as Will, and a funeral is held. However, Joyce is still convinced Will is talking to her through blinking Christmas lights in her living room, and his friends are similarly sure he’s still hanging around.
Jim breaks into the morgue and discovers Will’s body is fake and full of stuffing. He and Joyce eventually track the monster/invisible presence of Will to a top-secret government installation. We learn the the government scientists were using Eleven in some sort of experiment where she utilizes a sensory deprivation tank to visit a poorly-explained parallel universe. Apparently the government wanted Eleven to spy on the Russians, but instead she ran into an Alien-esque monster—slime and all—that chased her back to our universe and started kidnapping people. There’s now a big gaping hole between the two universes, although Will is trapped in the alternate one. Eventually Joyce and Jim are able to free him, Eleven destroys the monster and presumably either dies or disappears into the other universe, and life goes back to normal—sort of.
I like parallel universe stories, but Stranger Things doesn’t really do it justice. Of all the places they could have gone with this, slimy-monster-chasing-people is about the least imaginative option around, but there you go. Plus you have to wonder about the intel this government agency was trying to gather on the Russians. If Eleven is spying on another country in an alternate universe, how would they know if the info she learns is also true in this one? I would have loved to see a better-thought-out story involving an alternate history of the cold war, but instead we got…a slimy monster chasing people. Because why write anything resembling an intelligent plot when you can have monsters and slime, right?
Personally, I would have preferred more delving into the alternate universe and the government spy angle, and less slimy monsters with no motivation except that they needed a slimy monster to kidnap/kill people, and less boring teen romance drama.
The end does leave the door open for a second season, so maybe I’ll get my wish in season two. Meanwhile, I did like the concept, and would like to see some of the characters developed further next season, as part of a better-written plot.