I have a confession to make. I am Topher, and I’ve been hooked on Stranger Things (ST). There has never been more compulsive viewing than the sci-fi masterpiece. I remember watching every episode of Dexter but that is so last decade. If you want something novel, purposeful, captivating, and suspenseful, I recommend ST. I’ve devoured the first two seasons so far and I’m currently tackling the third. I have to admit that I am a newcomer to the bandwagon. I first heard of the show just recently. Before that, it wasn’t on my radar. Once I got started on the cold-blooded, it was hard to stop. The series is a chameleon: comic relief to fiery drama, edge of your seat thrills to teenage squabbles.
The programme follows four male teens from varying backgrounds: Will Bryers, Mike Wheeler, Lucas, and Dustin. Set in small-town Indiana, the programme would go on to include more characters: Eleven, the mysterious but powerful girl who captures Mike’s heart. There’s Hopper, the chief policeman who would be a boon to the kids’ cause. Jonathan, Will’s older brother; Nancy, Mike’s older sister, who has her own cosmic struggles. Meanwhile, Steve is the school jock who transforms from Nancy’s boyfriend to a big brother to the troupe. Winona Ryder plays Joyce Bryers, who – while fragile – has a heart of gold. The evolution of the boys from playing Dungeons and Dragons to battling forces of evil, is riveting. Initially reluctant to let anyone else into their party, they open their arms and join forces against a common enemy. This villain goes beyond normal logic, and they occasionally utilise the help of their Science teacher. While at it, they likewise pool the strengths of other townsfolk: including Jonathan, Nancy, Joyce, Hopper, and later, Steve.
This is not your classical Man v Man or even Man v Nature trope. Rather, this is Man V Supernatural. In the first two seasons, the dreaded Demogorgon is the primary villain. The vicious predator would hit close to home, and the town scrambles to combat the monster. The Demogorgon is a beast who preys on people’s minds and is very tough to stop. Without a thorough understanding, the monster would continue to wreak havoc. Compounding the peskiness of the Demogorgon is the so-called Hawkins Lab, a group of dodgy scientists in town. They separate the wheat from the chaff and take away the best young minds, only to spy on the leftovers. They are cruel to the victims of this arrangement, including the parents who are left without their kids. Moreover, they want their secrets to remain as such and would stop at nothing to attain this.
The show has a real 80s feel, which is understandable since it’s set in the early 80s. From the walkie-talkies to the retro cars, the unfashionable clothes to Polaroids, the nostalgia is on. The corded landlines and absence of mobile phones only add to the mystique; pagers are the exception. Instead of computers, these kids have Atari. They play VHS tapes rather than Blu-Rays. They employed snail mail and not email. They ride bikes as opposed to hoverboards. Even the cinemas and mall are laid out differently. Thus, the movie is very sentimental, like a time machine back to the days of yore.
The key nexus is between adventurous Mike and new kid Eleven. It is Mike who christens Eleven as ‘El for short’. He welcomes her into his world, even as others are hesitant. He hides her from his family and tells her that ‘friends don’t lie’ and that promises are to be honoured. He introduces new things to her, like the TV. In like manner, El tears down her defences. Initially withdrawn, she gradually opens up to the gang. Eggo becomes her fave food, and she even steals a whole bunch from the supermarket. Mike has grand plans for them and plans to bring her to the school ball. They have their moments together. Between Mike and El, Lucas and Mike, Dustin and Lucas, even Nancy and Steve, drama abounds. They lose friends, regain them and then add some new pals.
Maybe it’s the kid theme, the cute ensemble cast, or the retro look; perhaps even the talk of Demogorgon’s and Hawkins Lab. Regardless, I, like millions before me, have discovered the delights of ST. The programme creates an idyllic time, a parallel universe, before the trappings of modern technology. ST’s setup is dreamy, it is picturesque while revealing that even the most perfect landscapes could court unease. The epoch had people playing board games instead of Fortnite, where 5G was a pipe dream like Pluto. Soon, they would be swapping their joysticks for a journey to the Upside Down. 80s America was when you could stretch your dollar, where the tree-lined neighbourhood became a community. Unlike the same telco ad, there was no Skype and certainly no swipe right. If you couldn’t say it in person, then you hope that they’d be home to take your call. The eighties also marked the looming end of Cold War hostilities. Though the battles were drawing to a close, the tensions remained. ST draws on this uncertainty.
Being a teenager
The coming-of-age concept of the show is hard to ignore. We are there as these kids grow from bickering teens to wannabe town saviors. Perhaps they remind us of ourselves, or someone else. The devices and ambience may not be the same, but the teenage angst, procrastination, team building, and struggles are things that we could relate to. Indeed, the critics have spoken and every one of Stranger’s first three season had absurd ratings. So far, the show is not as highly-decorated as say, Game of Thrones, but is surely one of the coolest offerings out there, if not the coolest. Programmes come and go, but never has there been one that exemplifies being a teenager in troubled times more than Stanger Things.