By Briana Fields
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Stranger Things is a Netflix original series that had its first season released on July 15. In the few months since, it’s become a massive hit, in part because of the Internet’s undying love for Barb, one of the show’s minor characters. However, even if you came for the memes, you’ll stay for the show.
In its eight hour-long episodes, Stranger Things encompasses just about every genre you could possibly be looking for. The plot centers around the disappearance of 12-year-old Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), but what really works about the show is that there are essentially three distinct storylines that could all work as their own standalone stories.
Will’s mom Joyce and Police Chief Jim Hopper (the always amazing Winona Ryder and David Harbour, respectively) are in a mystery about suspicious laboratory experiments and possible government-sanctioned kidnappings. Will’s three best friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) are in a science fiction coming-of-age adventure spurred on by their discovery of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a girl with telekinetic powers. Will’s brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Mike’s older sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) are in a teenage romance/slasher film, complete with a love triangle, house parties, and bullies.
While all three plot lines are very compelling on their own, the real magic comes from watching them all weave together as one group of characters find answers to a different group’s questions, until finally in the last two episodes, all the stories converge, and the characters pool their knowledge and face the monster(s).
Set in November 1983, the show also owes some of its popularity to its pop culture references. The countless references to classic films of the late 70s and 80s such as E.T., The Goonies, and Alien, as well as music featured from Foreigner, Toto, and most notably, The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” will make anyone feel nostalgic, whether they were actually around in the 80s or not. Other details like the use of neon lighting, authentic-feeling set dressing, and characters’ fashion fully immerse you in the world of 1980s Hawkins, Indiana, and later, the Upside Down.
The best part of the show for me, however, is the characters. From naïve but powerful Eleven and caring, funny Dustin to loyal, clever Nancy and surprisingly competent Chief Hopper, every character feels like a real person with a completely developed personality. One standout (and trust me, there’s more than one) is Nancy’s love interest, Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). At first he seems like a stereotypical bad boy that Nancy will regret getting involved with, but just when it seems like he’s going to abandon Nancy after getting what he wanted from her, he subverts the bad boyfriend trope and ends up helping to save the day.
The relationships between these characters – the friendship between Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Eleven, and the familial love of Joyce Byers and her sons, especially – are truly the heart of the show. Happily, both the writing and the actors do all these characters and relationships justice. This is Winona Ryder’s first foray into television, and she unsurprisingly knocks it out of the park, but the young actors (the group that plays Will’s friends range from age 11-14) are also incredibly talented. I have to give particular commendation to Millie Bobby Brown, who does an amazing job saying a lot in her performance as Eleven, despite Eleven not actually speaking very much at all.
Ultimately, this show proves that things generally get popular for good reasons. Whether you’re looking for 80s nostalgia, satisfying mystery, government conspiracy, engaging science fiction, drama and adventure, or just a good story, you’ll find and enjoy it in Stranger Things.