In a quintessential American small town, strange things start to happen. Will Byers, a young boy, disappears, seemingly without a trace. This triggers his family, friends and the entire town into a frenzy filled search as outside government forces and supernatural occurrences become the daily norm. When his friends have a chance encounter with a nameless girl, and his mother refuses to take no for an answer, their worlds and the town of Hawkins, Indiana is irreversibly changed.
Welcome to the sleepy, 1980’s small town of Hawkins, Indiana, where according to police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), nothing ever happens. That is until Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), the shy son to single mom Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), disappears. His three closest friends, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas ( Caleb McLaughlin) think it’s more than just a case of a” missing person”. They disregard parental and law enforcement directives to “sit and wait” as they discover who and what took their friend. Things escalate when they stumble upon a little girl with a shaved head and a heavy past. Over time, the girl known as Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) reveals clues that just might lead them to their friend and the salvation of the town, before it’s too late.
Throughout the three seasons, we follow this tight knit group as they deal with the fateful consequences of that one night, alongside other prominent townies such as high school wallflower Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), resident cool guy Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), quiet artist Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and the inquisitive and often resourceful police chief, Jim Hopper. Throughout the transformative and deeply nostalgic early to mid 1980’s, they face off against looming supernatural threats, telekinetic manifestations and deep state, governmental intrusions surrounding the town and its facilities.
Where does one even start? The dynamic duo of the Duffer Brothers knocked this one out of the park with daring dialogue, fast paced action, deep emotional growth & exploration and spine-tingling horror. The Duffers, alongside the massive Stranger Things writing team, drew heavily on their own experiences with adolescence and puberty as well as the changing landscape of the American mid-west in the 80’s. The setting is intentional as it serves the story best and removes the “Deus Ex Machina” that modern technology has often become in screen narratives.
The teleplay is heavily influenced by the 1980’s science fiction and horror movement spearheaded by film legends such as Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and novelist Stephen King. From the dialogue to the settings and character arcs, the Duffers combined the eerie nature of the series they’d previously worked on, Twin Peaks, with the stuff of their childhood.
The season one theme of a ragtag group of children taking things into their own hands mirrors Stephen King’s “Stand By Me ” while season three’s emotional tone and rebellious youth narrative mirrors coming of age films such as “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, “The Breakfast Club” and “16 Candles”. They also added the main ideologies of the times to propel the script forward. Everything from cold war conspiracy theories, the decline of mom and pop shops & the rise of corporate America to MK-Ultra serves as reference as well as story and character development that pushes the plot forward with tremendous pacing.
Characters and acting
It’s hilarious to consider that when the Duffers first pitched a child led ensemble cast to network television executives, they were flat out rejected. The consensus was that nobody would be interested in following kids. Boy, were they wrong. From season one’s introduction, you’ll find yourself falling in love with the dynamic between the show’s four main characters.
Each personality type is clearly outlined in a fun scene. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is the sarcastic leader, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) is the scared jokester, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is the realist and Will (Noah Schnapp) is the shy optimist. Each consistently gives stellar performances throughout the seasons as their characters grow, alongside the brilliant Millie Bobby Brown as the enigmatic, intuitive Eleven. They’re joined by two seasoned performances from acting legends, Winona Ryder and David Harbour.
As the seasons progress and new faces join the fold, namely Sadie Sink who plays Max and Maya Hawke, who plays Robin, they fit in seamlessly with the core group and highlight their various character arcs and complexities while adding something fresh.
Music and cinematography
The heart-warming, thought provoking tunes that draw out emotional attachment and reflection in this show are only matched by the horrifying, skin crawling synth wave sounds that shortly follow. You have Kyle Dixon and Micheal Stein to thank for the award-winning score that molds the visuals and dialogue with stunning sound design and music. The title sequence alone is worth a few watches.
If you ever get a chance to look at the original series bible, titled Montauk, you’ll see how meticulous the scenery and visual choices were. The duo intentionally sculpted Hawkins and its inhabitants after 80’s classics such as “E.T”, “Close Encounters of The Third Kind”, “Carrie” & “Stephen King’s IT” just to name a few.
You can catch some visual easter eggs and nods to these influential films throughout the seasons. The team of cinematographers, namely Tim Ives, Tod Campbell, Lachlan Milne and David Franco worked tirelessly with period piece experts and set designers to evoke the rustic, film style look and the authentic 80’s details down to the candy bar wrappers in season two.
Yes. Just, yes. The series lives up to the hype so don’t even kid yourself. Go watch it. Then rewatch it and join the rest of society in waiting with baited breath for the next chapter. Beyond highly recommended.