The Success of Stranger Things

Hopefully, you've already seen the excellent Stranger Things on Netflix. Since its debut a month ago, it has already earned critical praise and impressive viewership. What's the secret of its success?

Many have mentioned the excellent sense of nostalgia that the show's creators the Duffer Brothers, Matt and Ross, have captured with this horror tale set in the 1980s.  It definitely evokes the spooky charm of classics such as E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Goonies, Poltergeist, and Stand by Me. The title sequence reminds me of Stephen King novels or TV shows like Tales from the Darkside. The music (by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein) is a perfect homage to the simple but effective compositions by John Carpenter.

A friend of mine said that Stranger Things is what J.J. Abrams' Super 8 film wanted to be.  I enjoyed Super 8, but yes, Stranger Things is an even greater pleasure, hitting all the right notes throughout its eight episodes.

The storytelling is engaging and the casting is perfect.  The kids at the center of the tale are magnificent, with the standouts being Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven and Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin. They look and act like real children, not Hollywood actors, making it easy for the audience to relate to them. I liked the emotional range of Mike, played by Finn Wolfhard, and especially Lucas, played by Caleb McLaughlin.

The adult actors also bring a lot to their performances, especially Winona Ryder in arguably her best role since Heathers. She plays a mother, hysterical about her missing son, trying to convince everyone that she's not going crazy when she starts believing that he's trapped in another dimension. It's a role reminiscent of 1970s and 1980s moms played by Teri Garr, Dee Wallace, or JoBeth Williams. David Harbour as Chief Cooper, Cara Buono as Mrs. Wheeler, and the wonderful Matthew Modine as Dr. Brenner were all excellent.

The teenagers also initially fall into traditional 80s stereotypes, but then prove to be more nuanced. By the finish, I ended up liking the cad Steve (played by Joe Keery) and hoping that Nancy (whose vulnerability was portrayed nicely by Natalia Dyer) finds her missing friend Barb (briefly but memorably played by Shannon Purser, we will not forget you, Barb!) Also, am I the only one who thought that the guy who played Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) had a strong resemblance to River Phoenix (may he rest in peace)?

Stranger Things has already sparked a strong fan following, inspiring thoughtful speculations about plot points and artistic expressions like the awesome poster image above by Matt Ferguson.  I can only hope that we'll indeed be seeing more adventures of these characters to come.