Summer was once a time where TV took a nice break while repeats filled the airwaves. Not so much anymore, a vast amount of content is being produced throughout the entire year across all kinds of platforms. One such show that premiered this summer to tremendously positive critical and audience acclaim was Netflix’s Stranger Things. It seemed like everywhere I looked there was a new post, tweet, or status about the show. It felt like everyone was talking about it. Clearly, the show struck a chord but what exactly made it so popular? Let’s take a look…
Before we get started, I will attempt to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. Some minor plot details will be discussed out of necessity for the review.
Stranger Things is set in 1983 and tells the story of a young boy named Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) who goes missing under (ahem) strange circumstances and his mother Joyce’s (Winona Ryder) search for him. The show also follows Will’s friends Mike, Dustin, and Lucas (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, and Caleb McLaughlin respectively) as they launch their own search for Will. Meanwhile, Joyce seeks assistance from the local police chief Hopper (David Harbour), the boys stumble upon a girl known only as “Eleven” (Millie Bobbie Brown) who seems to be connected to Will’s disappearance.
Created by The Duffer Brothers, Stranger Things plays like one giant love letter to ’80s Sci-Fi. Everything from the music to the title sequence feels completely of place (as much as I can assume since I was born in the ’90s) with the period. The show effortlessly creates that sense of adventure and mystery that permeated so much of the entertainment from then. While Stranger Things is packed with familiar tropes the beauty of the show is in how it subverts them.
This show easily could have been allowed its characters to exist simply as their stereotypes but it wisely allows them to evolve beyond that. Take for example, the character of Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) who at first appears to be just another high school “popular girl” but over the course of the season emerges as a brave young woman who deeply cares for those around her. Nancy is just one example of several characters who over the course of the season who transcend their archetypes who truly ground us in the crazy events happening around them.
A major pitfall of many shows on Netflix is that they tend to drag in the middle of their seasons. Every Netflix series is released all at once and made to be binge watched as fast as possible. Stranger Things too was released under that model but with a key difference. Instead of a 13 episodes season like most Netflix series, Stranger Things runs a taught and perfectly paced 8 episodes. This is quite possibly the greatest praise I have for the show. Every episode feels vital to the story, whether it reveals new details about the characters or provides revelations in the mystery of Will’s disappearance. Like the best shows on Netflix, as soon as one episode finishes you will absolutely want to watch the next. I believe that the size and pace of the season are two of the key factors in the show’s popularity.
I must confess, the scope of the show’s popularity baffles me somewhat. I loved the show and was supremely entertained by it but it didn’t feel like some kind of TV revelation. Yet based on the audience reaction you would assume it was. I’ve seen far too many articles pop up on Facebook and Reddit hyping up a show I think is great but not amazing. Perhaps what elevated the popularity of the show was the skill with which it was executed.
Stranger Things was one of the most fun and entertaining pieces of TV I watched all summer. It took its concept, executed it with style and heart, and (most importantly) didn’t overstay its welcome. This is a very valuable thing in TV where many shows run for too many episodes with bloated runtimes. Every show doesn’t have to be the next Breaking Bad or Mad Men. We don’t need hundreds of shows created with these grand philosophical goals in mind (although I love those that do). So while Stranger Things may not have changed the game it certainly played it very well.
What did you all think? Let me know in the comments below and on Facebook!