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In small town Indiana, 1983, twelve year old Will Byers mysteriously vanishes into thin air. His mother Joyce and brother Jonathan seek help from the town’s pill-popping chief of police, Jim Hopper—jaded since the death of his own young daughter. Will’s best friends, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas, desperate to find their friend and spurred on by a love of comic books and mystery novels, set out on their own to find Will and come across a young girl alone in the woods, dressed in a bedraggled hospital gown with her head shaved. After the boys take her home to Mike’s basement, she recognizes a photo of Will and though near-mute indicates to knowing where he is. Known only as Eleven after the number tattooed on her wrist, the boys discover that she possesses amazing supernatural powers and that someone or something is out to get her, and it is a race against time for everyone to find Will before whatever it is gets them too.
While watching Stranger Things you can tell its creators, the Duffer Brothers, are genuinely passionate about what they’re doing and intend it to be a love letter to the films they grew up with—the references are plentiful, to E.T., The Goonies, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, and Stephen King novels among others. In interviews they talk fondly of wanting to inspire all the emotions that come with 80s adventure and paranormal classics, and I feel like they hit the nail on the head with everything that they sought to achieve. Stranger Things is defined by its warmth and its willingness to believe in incredible things, instilling a sense of childlike wonder and awe in the viewer as we watch and learn through the eyes of a group of Dungeons and Dragons obsessed tweens, with an underlying sense of uneasiness as reality is blurred with the sinister world of the Upside-Down. Beautifully atmospheric, one of the most gripping scenes sees a distraught Joyce set up a ouija board of fairy lights across her wall in an attempt to communicate with her lost son, creating an instantly iconic image for science fiction to come.
If I’m being honest, there is not a single thing I don’t love about this show. I know I give a lot of pretty positive reviews, but that’s because I’m obsessed with television and familiar enough with my own tastes that I know when something is going to be worth my time watching. Stranger Things is a perfect show. The acting is amazing, assembling the best youth cast since Freaks and Geeks, with the standout being Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven who will blow your mind harder than her mind can blow up trucks. Seeing Winona Ryder again is wonderful after what seemed like her semi-blacklisting for a little bit of shoplifting and she is very compelling if a little one-note as Will’s frantic mother. The soundtrack is phenomenal, from the eerie synth-y opening theme to the heartbreaking uses of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” and a Peter Gabriel cover of “Heroes” by Bowie. For a show that is so upfront about being an homage to particular 80s classics it never seems like it is rehashing anything or trying too hard. Best of all, Stranger Things reminds you of being young and being curious and staying up really late getting lost in a fantasy book. I want to get lost in the world of Stranger Things and for a moment there I did, and I promise you will find yourself craving even more strange happenings at the end of this brilliant first season.