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There’s more to Stranger Things than nostalgia

There’s more to Stranger Things than nostalgia

For TV watchers, winter 2016 has been a season of, if not discontent, then some real disappointment. The schedules at this time of year always present fairly thin pickings thanks to the Northern Hemisphere downing tools and heading to the beach en masse.

And with 2015 darlings Mr Robot and UnReal both experiencing a sophomore slump and new shows like Roadies and Outcast burning up on takeoff, the winter doldrums have felt even more pronounced.

But of course, that’s paid TV. What about terrestrial? As the nation shivered in uninsulated lounges, crying out as one for something — anything — to distract them from the bone-crunching cold, their prime-time choices consisted of The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, Seven Year Switch and Married at First Sight. Any colour you liked, as long as it was black.

Thank goodness for the Rio Olympics. And thank goodness, too, for Netflix, whose 80s-set science fiction series Stranger Things was the most purely enjoyable television I watched all winter. There’s nothing particularly original about this tale of supernatural forces running rampant in small-town America, and there’s definitely nothing original about the stylistic choices of its creators, twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer. And that’s the point.

They’ve hit on just the right mix of comedy, horror and addictive storytelling.

The brothers, who describe Stranger Things as a “love letter to the 80s”, litter the series with an astonishing number of references to films of the era. In the first episode alone, you’ll spot moments influenced by coming-of-age classics including The Goonies and Stand by Me; Spielbergian sci-fi such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET; Pretty in Pink-style teen drama; and creepy-child horror like Firestarter and Poltergeist.

While I found Stranger Things’ brazen 80s-philia charming, there’s every chance others will call it cynical and cheap. Feeding audiences’ appetite for uncomplicated nostalgia is an easy way to gain their goodwill, but “spot the pop cultural reference” is a game with diminishing returns.

Lucky, then, that there’s much more to love about Stranger Things. The Duffer brothers may be relative neophytes — their IMDb page includes just a single barely watched feature and a handful of TV episodes — but they’ve hit on just the right mix of comedy, horror and addictive storytelling. At just eight hours, the series never threatens to outstay its welcome, and each episode ends on a cliffhanger that practically demands an all-day Netflix binge.

The intertwining plot strands — following a missing boy’s friends, the adults in his life, and a group of teens who get caught up in the mystery — work in perfect equilibrium, the sweetness of the child actors counterbalancing Winona Ryder’s scenes as the boy’s grief-stricken mother. She’s a standout, and so are David Harbour as the town sheriff — the best star-making role since Sterling K Brown in The People vs OJ Simpson — and Gaten Matarazzo as the most adorable of the band of kids trying to track down their friend. With heart and humour and a few good scares, Stranger Things is the ideal series with which to curl up under the duvet and wait for spring.

Film & TV