Stranger Things: Season 1 created by the Duffer Brothers (21 Laps Entertainment, Monkey Massacre)
Starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Noah Schnapp, and Cara Buono.
As a parent I’ve achieved equilibrium. I don’t mention this to suggest I have my life all lined up and perfectly balanced. Such a position is a work of sanctification for which I constantly strive.
But, I do get to see the other side of the coin. As a dad, I see the world anew. When I was a child, I thought of childish things. I had a sense of play and curiosity. As a burgeoning young adult, I thought I had the world all figured it. The meaning of life? 42. Next!
Seriously though, consider the nascent eons of adolescence between middle and high school. Those are the days of invincibility, when nothing can really go wrong. The worst stress orbiting the nervous system emerges from a difficult test or whether or not he or she “likes” you back.
To a certain extent, your teenage self exists in a parallel universe to the real life of “woke” parents. I remember how often I would hear concerns about work or the mortgage. And yet none of that registered to my self-centered youthful brain. Imma gonna go spend the night at such-and-such friend’s house.
And yet, this metaphorical divide between young and old informs the narrative arc of the new Netflix binge-worthy affair, Stranger Things.
Just Like the 80s
Set in a nostalgia-laced Midwestern town in the 80s, Stranger Things checks all the boxes of period-specific tropes. If you ever wanted to know what would happen if you mixed The Goonies, early Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and standard horror practices, this series is what you’d get.
The main characters are your normal types: young, nerdy boys, at home with Dungeons & Dragons.
The story kicks in gear when Will (Noah Schnapp) disappears under odd circumstances. His mother, Joyce (played optimally by Winona Ryder), maintains Will is out there despite increasingly long odds.
The town sheriff, Hopper (David Harbour) full of grief from losing a young child to cancer, emerges from a stupor of alcohol and pills to dig deep into this mystery, which points to something amiss with the local top-secret government facility.
With a nod to the extra-terrestrial elements of many 80s films, a mysterious girl named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) emerges to help the “nerdy” friends find Will.
We All Live in a Parallel Universe of Young and Old
Throughout this mostly-excellent-though-largely-expected tale, the metaphor of parallel universes keeps popping up.
These kids, especially with clear and present danger evident to all, trudge around this small town in the middle of the night looking for their friend. As a viewer, and especially as a father, I keep wondering about the parents. How could they let these kids run around unsupervised?
While all these dangerous adventures unfurl, the parents of the kids outside of Joyce are MIA. In fact, the main young protagonist, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), has a mom (Cara Buono) that keeps up appearances of parenting but her threats land on deaf ears. The dad (Joe Chrest) fares far worse. His interests push his focus to a newspaper and his favorite La-Z-Boy.
And while such parenting is frustrating given my desire to be a good father, I understand its use in the larger narrative arc. When I was a boy, I thought I could conquer the world by my lonesome. Stranger Things reminds us that such thoughts are universal in our youth. We don’t fully realize equilibrium until we see life from the other end and the cycle repeats itself with our children.
As for Stranger Things, if you can lean into the narrative predictability, the show is quite fun. Recommended if you want to turn the nostalgia to 11.
Verdict: 4 out of 5