Sep 04

Stranger Things: Bringing Back the Cool 70’s and 80’s Vibe

Eleven in Stranger Things

We saw it coming with Super 8, the soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy, The Goldbergs, and even more. The 70’s and 80’s vibe is making a comeback.  When it started, we just can’t put our finger on it.  Chris Pratt dancing to “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede definitely got everyone’s attention.  All of a sudden, millenials are asking about all the songs in the Awesome Mix Vol. 1.  I think we finally got tired of listening to songs made up of 1 or 3 sentences like Work or Run the World.  After watching Avengers 2 or Civil War, we keep wondering why it was not as exciting as we thought it would be.

Netflix’s Stranger Things finally confirmed it — we are beginning to crave more of the 70’s and 80’s.  Hey, it’s cool seeing a group of superheroes fly and smash all over New York.  But it was way cooler seeing kids on bikes outsmarting the bad guys and a little girl beating the scary alien to save her friends.  For many of us Gen X guys, maybe it’s nostalgia.  It reminded us of how we felt when we watched ET for the first time.  Or how we loved Stand by Me and The Goonies.

But I believe we should give credit to whom it is due.  The success of Stranger Things can be attributed to the perfect acting chops of the kids, most especially Millie Bobby Brown.  I remember her specifically as Madison O’Donnell in the 2014 TV series Intruders.  She played the character of a little girl possessed by the soul of an old killer seeking immortality.  The Intruders flopped and never made it to season 2, but I can’t forget how creepy that little girl was as she easily killed her victims.  It’s good to finally see her talent find its home in a good story.

Stranger Things tells the story of 4 kids (5 if we include the missing Will Byers) who find a way to save their friend from a monster in another dimension.  In the pilot, we see that Will is abducted on his way home after playing D&D with his friends Mike, Dustin, and Lucas.  A day after he disappears, the boys discover Eleven, a girl in a hospital gown with buzz cut hair.  Mike takes Eleven back to their home without telling his parents, hiding her in the basement.  They soon find out Eleven is telepathic and telekinetic.  Later on in the series, it is revealed she is the product of a government experiment to spy on the Russians. Instead, she is transported into another dimension and releases a monster that devours people.  In the end, they are able to save Will from the other dimension (the “Upside Down”) and Eleven sacrifices her life to destroy the monster.  But the twist in the end shows Eleven may still be alive as the police chief brings Eggos (Eleven’s favorite) in a small box in the woods on Christmas.  We also see Will coughing out slimy slugs in the bathroom.

In this blog, I always emphasize how I feel it is important to watch characters that are believable.  We want them to take us through their journey.  Bad acting ruins the entire experience and I’ve seen a couple of TV series misfires just because they picked the wrong actor to play the role.  In Stranger Things, the four kids definitely upstaged their older co-actors.  Aside from Millie (Eleven), Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin Henderson), and Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas Sinclair) absolutely delivered.  Other than Millie, Gaten was my other fave.  He was funny, awkward, and smart all at the same time — just as the character should be. I was actually hoping he’d suddenly belt out a tune in the middle of the series (Gaten sings brilliantly as Gavroche in Les Mis on Broadway).

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing for the older characters.  Had it not been for the perfect portrayal by the kids, I doubt Stranger Things would’ve gained any ground.  David Harbour as the Sheriff and Matthew Modine as the scientist were at least mediocre.  While they were forgettable, at least they were not annoying.  But it’s more than  I can say about Winona Ryder and Natalia Dyer.  Winona acted like a mother high on coke or heroin.  I know a mother will panic when she loses her son, but not every second of the day.  The only thing she wasn’t doing is jumping up and down or pulling her hair while talking to someone.  Maybe she just takes too much coffee before a take or her eyes are too big . . . I don’t know.  It was unsettling watching her in this role.  As for Natalia Dyer, I have no idea what the casting director was thinking.  She was supposed to play the role of a popular chick with a hot boyfriend and a nerdy little brother.  Barb actually looked hotter than her even with the glasses.  She was also supposed to be a bad ass girl who tries to fight the monster.  But how in the name of all holy can she carry an axe, a gun, or a crowbar?  A chopstick maybe . . . anorexic much?  The axe handle had a wider girth than her arm.  If someone asked me how to tell if a girl had an eating disorder, I’d probably show a picture of Natalia Dyer.

Regardless if they keep Winona and Natalia ( I doubt the audience would mind), I am eager to watch season 2 of Stranger Things.  If they do decide to keep Winona, will someone please tell her to calm down and breathe?

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