I watched the whole season of Stranger Things back-to-back one Saturday. That’s not actually as impressive as it might sound, as the first season is only 8 episodes/6 hours long, which really is more of a 10k than a marathon in my world. Still it was enough continuous television that my Netflix app on Xbox actually checked to make sure I was still actually present, or conscious. Or alive possibly.
Given that commitment to watching, you’d think my response would be something greater then “it’s good”, but that’s about all the enthusiasm I can sum up. It is entertaining, and certainly compelling enough that reaching for the remote to stop the autoplay wasn’t an attractive option. But when I think back on it, the words that spring to mind are all “damning with faint praise” type terms – competent, well put together, engaging; not words like spectacular, or revolutionary, or wonderful.
Part of the issue for me was the reliance on 80s nostalgia as part of the USP. Everything about the show was a throw-back to things like the Goonies, ET. The kids investigating an increasingly weird occurrence, the well meaning sheriff, it was all sort of non-specifically familiar to me. Maybe the problem is that I’ve re-watched many of those ‘classics’ from my childhood (actually being born in 1979, most of the 80’s was a bit early for me) and they don’t really hold up that well these days. So making that mental connection wasn’t necessarily acting in the show’s favour. Thankfully either as I got used to them, or as the plot gets into gear in later episodes, the references faded into the background a bit. All except the music. The tracks used were incredibly obviously linked to the events/emotions on screen in a way that was either funny or painful depending on your point of view. More than once I rolled my eyes or let out an audible sigh with the cheesy and obvious selections.
While the setting and style might not be to my taste, the nuts and bolts of the series work well. The story builds up nicely, the development and gradual reveals of the mysteries nicely paced out through the nicely restrained 8 episode run. The short season was an excellent choice as any longer and things would have felt way too drawn out. The characters likewise develop nicely over that time, with the large ensemble moving fluidly and gradually bringing the different groups together. The cast is superb, the four children all magnificent, and Winona Ryder delivering some devastating scenes.
In an era where more choice of television seems to be leading to more mediocrity, competent shouldn’t be overlooked and Stranger Things may not have resonated for me in the way that it clearly has for some, but it’s a well put together and satisfying show to watch even with the 80’s-ness of it all.