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Monday, 18 July 2016

My New Favourite Thing...


There's a lot of great genre television being made these days, but every so often a show ascends to lofty heights where we look at it and wish all TV was as good as this (e.g. Hannibal, Pushing Daisies, Game Of Thrones to name but three).

Joining this illustrious elite now is my new favourite thing: the eight-part Netflix original drama Stranger Things.

Set in Hawkins, Indiana, in late 1983, a young boy - Will (Noah Schnapp) - goes missing in the woods and his friends set out to look for him, finding instead a strange girl called Eleven (Millie Brown).

Meanwhile Will's mum (Winona Ryder) becomes convinced that Will is trying to communicate with her from the "other side" - via fairy lights - and she struggles to persuade the sheriff (David Harbour) that Will is still alive, even when a body is found.

Elsewhere, sinister scientists, fronted by a white-haired Matthew Modine, are trying to find their escaped test subject.

An homage to sci-fi/horror movies and shows of the 1970s and 1980s, Stranger Things is reminiscent of early Steven Spielberg (particularly E.T. and Poltergeist, with a splash of Close Encounters) and early Stephen King (particularly Stand By Me, The Mist, Carrie, and Firestarter), but with nods to much, much more (for instance you have one of the main characters, called Nancy, setting traps around a house for a monster she plans on summoning).

On more than one occasion, I was also reminded of my beloved Escape To Witch Mountain from the early 1970s, and there's a monster in there, lurking in the shadows, that's positively Lovecraftian (I'd say a gug).

Simply put, Stranger Things is pitch-perfect. Capturing the magic of that era's science-fiction shows, that I grew up watching and helped shape my geeky psyche, as well as letting prevalent family dynamics and technology play into a plot that primarily works because of its setting.

It feels like the 1980s and, if this was your childhood or teenage years, there's an inescapable, rose-tinted, nostalgia at work here that - gruesome deaths and government conspiracies aside - makes you long for this seemingly simpler age.

Even the music and the show's score are just so on point. By some mystical alchemy all the diverse elements that go into creating a genre television show have come together in exactly the right proportions and created a work of pure genius.

It's creepy in all the right places, exciting, goofy, sweet, and heartbreaking when it needs to be (yes, I may have welled up in the final episode).

There isn't a weak link in the chain. The school bullies are suitably obnoxious, Will's friends are just the sort of friends you'd want at that age (and their acting is great), and Eleven has superseded Arya Stark as the fictional orphan I want Rachel and I to adopt and care for.

And how could I not love a show that has a "chapter" entitled The Flea And The Acrobat?

As a geeky aside, Stranger Things also delivers the most authentic depiction of Dungeons & Dragons - and gamer culture around it in those early days - yet seen on mainstream television.

There's really no point me gushing any more. Just see it. Initial feedback I've caught across the web has been universally positive for this - something pretty much unheard of in this day and age - and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I hope Stranger Things wins loads of awards, that the creators - brothers Matt and Ross Duffer - get the recognition they deserve, and that a second season rolls around in due course.

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