"Stranger Things" is really, really good. It might even be great.

But lets start with a more factual account. "Stranger Things" is a Netflix original series. The first season consisted of eight episodes, and was released in July of 2016. The second season, consisting of nine episodes, was released in October of 2017. The show is a horror/science fiction show, with aspects of mystery and espionage. In my view, the first season felt more like a fantasy or horror story, while the second season managed to be a harder science-fiction story. The show most famous star was Winona Ryder, and while she received top billing, the story is not mostly about her. The show was very successful, and critically well-received, and contributed several pieces of cultural currency, such as the Christmas Lights scene.

One of the most noticeable things about the show is that it is set in the 1980s. The first season is set in 1983, and the second in 1984. The costumes, cars, technology, haircuts, decor, attitudes, everything, are almost perfectly done. Someone with a very fine toothed comb could look over the show and find a few anachronisms that snuck in, but in general, the show functions as a perfect period piece. Certain aspects of the plot are only possible because of the 1980s setting.

The plot of Stranger Things begins with a group of preteen friends playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons, and then bicycling home in their small Indiana town. On the way back, one of them, Will Byers, hears something in the wood and starts to run...and then disappears. The next day, he still isn't home. Despite the fact that it is 1983 and children are still free range, this alarms his mother, Joyce Byers (played by Winona Ryder) and she calls the local police chief, Jim Hopper, for help. Despite his seemingly lazy and rough demeanor, Jim Hopper begins to believe that the mystery behind Will's disappearance might be more than it seems. Will's three friends also want to find their lost friend, and when a strange girl with a shaved head and unusual speech shows up, they think they might have a lead that none of the adults in the town have. And incidentally, this town has a mysterious Department of Energy research lab on the outskirts of town...before long, the mystery is being described from three intersecting angles: the band of preteen children, their older, teenage siblings, and the adults, all investigating at cross-purposes. Along with the science-fiction story, the young people in the story also undergo a coming of age story.

Describing it, none of this is a particularly original story. As many people have pointed out, the story borrows heavily from 80s cinema: The Goonies, It, E.T., Alien and Aliens, Altered States, Fire Starter---in many ways, this is a combination of some stock plots: the Ragtag Group of Misfits, the simple country sheriff who isn't as simple as he seems, the heartless and secretive scientists, among many others. The execution of it is done superbly, and the shifts in tone between the mundane and the paranormal are done seamlessly.

Everyone who is a fan of this show will probably have a different reason for liking it. For me, the appeal is how perfectly it recreates its period. Although I am a little younger than the characters in the show, the childhood depicted in Stranger Things is not that different from my own. Which makes the horror and mystery more believable and immersive for me: because I did go into the woods and get scared and see things, and then wander back out into a world of cul-de-sacs where kids would discuss Dungeons & Dragons at our neighborhood meeting place. For me, the appeal of "Stranger Things" is how it presents the liminal nature of things behind the everyday world, and how it subtly connects the idea of supernatural evil with the cruelty and callousness of everyday life. Although I appreciate the series building up an involved and detailed cosmology, it is the earlier episodes, where we can't be sure what is normal, what is madness, and what is oonspiracy and misdirection, that gave me the greatest feeling of horror.

In my first sentence, I said that Stranger Things was very good, but I don't yet know if it is great. There are more seasons to come, we hope, of "Stranger Things", and more directions for it to take. Right now, it is unclear whether it will be seen as just a very well executed example of the horror genre, or whether it will be seen as a definitive, innovative work in its own right. At this point, I wouldn't bet against it.

Remix culture is a hell of a drug.

It takes something familiar and also popular and proven, but puts a fresh take on it. It's why Lady Gaga made a fortune channeling Madonna, David Bowie, Steve McQueen and others - to produce a "best of" everything we've seen in pop music in thirty years. Likewise Marilyn Manson combined KISS, Alice Cooper and a few other influences to produce a steamy gumbo of adolescent rebellion. It's something new, something borrowed. Familiar but fresh.

So when Stranger Things, a Netflix series from the 2010s comes on, with its theme a combination of synthwave 80s sonic references backing a faded glowing neon effect last seen in 1980s films - there's already something vaguely familiar. 80's B-grade horror film meets the font from the Choose your own Adventure books.

The "Sleepy backwoods midwest town" is reminiscent of Stephen King. As is the "little girl with psychic powers" trope. As is the "small group of boys just on the cusp of adolescence, and the girl who comes between them". That's an 80s trope for sure, heck, it's in many a film - from just about every work by the aforementioned Stephen King to The Goonies. In fact, in a kind of meta-shoutout, breakout star Finn Wolfhard in essence reprised a role his character was spiritually based on by appearing in the remake of It.

The slowly unravelling mystery with some dark, shadowy government conspiracy is straight out of The X-Files. The small town cop with a heart of gold - also an 80s antihero.

And of course you have the classic 80s movie set pieces. School cliques. After school clubs. Dungeons and Dragons. School bullying, something which modern audiences would find awful, but apparently was way worse in real life back in that day. Girls getting a "rep" back when that actually meant something. Those awful high waisted pants and that strange short haircut a lot of 80s girls rocked.

Another nice bit of familiarity is the choice of actors. Winona Ryder is back after disappearing in the 90s due to some shoplifting-related lunacy. As is Mathew Modine. And the mother of the kid that finds the crazy girl is none other than the older sister from Sixteen Candles. The torch is passed from a generation that was in movies as children to a new group of breakout stars. Winona is delightfully showing her age by being completely out of touch with her young cast. They tried to explain to her what "Snapchat" is and she thought it had something to do with food.

As for the something new?

Without giving too much spoilerama away - grief and loss are usually seen from adult perspectives. One of the key things in this series is the disappearance and discovery of the body of one of a group of friends. Whereas most movies would center on the mother's grief, and Winona Ryder gets to chew up the scenery doing agonizing tearjerking scene after appearing to descend into madness scene - this one equally follows the grief of the group of kids who were his friends. And the actors are very up to the task, with both Finn Wolfhard (whose name I will use a lot, given its Awesome McCoolname sound) and Millie Bobby Brown having to cry, and cry a lot. Many times all they're given to work with is a haltingly spoken single line, or a look. And they nail it. These kids are ones to watch.

A main reason why this works as well is that it takes a season to go through the whole scenario. You get tantalizing glimpses of the full picture, with more pieces falling into place as time moves on. And as an homage to the source material, it doesn't bother much with exposition. You don't really know who the Big Bads are, just that they're "the government" and "bad men". Just like in the original source material. As such it gives them more menace, as you're much more intimidated by the unknown than the known. It also leaves the spotlight on the shattered people trying to piece together enough - not to take down the Big Bad - but to simply find their loved ones. Alive.

A second series was commissioned, and a third is about to be developed. It's shot in the Atlanta area, and some people can recognize the secret laboratory as, well, actually, parts of the Emory University. The bulk of it is shot in a small town near Atlanta, which explains why even in November, there's really no snow, and the leaves are far more autumnal, as is normal in Georgia in that time of year. In fact, the whole place really looks like Georgia.

The sad thing is, I only started watching this to understand the references in a Sesame Street skit about "Sharing Things" which lampoons everything from Cookie Monster as Demogorgon to Winona Ryder's den mother character handing out Hallowe'en treats. There's a bit with a girl wearing candy wrappers I'm not familar with yet, but they gave Ernie missing front teeth to match the congenital illness that one of its young stars has, causing his teeth to grow in at a far later date than normal.

But as it is shot in Georgia and such, I hope to get an extra role at some point in it before it jumps the shark. Wish me luck.

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