A Blast From the Past: Stranger Things Pays a Thrilling Tribute to ’80s Pop Culture

Stranger Things cast (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Hawkins National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy. Nov. 6, 1983.

Harsh, fluorescent lights flicker, casting a green glow around a metal door at the end of a cold, sterile hallway. Then, out of the quiet, the door bursts open and an alarm sounds as a balding man in a lab coat flies like a bat out of hell down the dimly lit passage.

Following the twists and turns of the hall, the man stops running only when he reaches an elevator at the very end. Frantically punching the elevator button, he fearfully glances back from where he came. His face is sweaty, his eyes full of terror. Finally, the elevator dings.

As the industrial-sized doors rattle open, the man hurries inside. Again he desperately punches the button, this time to close the door. As he waits, security badge swinging from a lanyard round his neck, the lights down the hallway start to flicker rapidly. He gasps as he hears a low growl from above. He slowly looks upward, hearing the growl grow more high-pitched.

As the elevator doors finally close, the man is lifted into the air by an unseen force. He screams in terror as his legs kick wildly in protest.

Cut to black.

The Netflix original series “Stranger Things” brings audiences of all ages together with a revival of pop culture straight from the ‘80s. While many modern TV shows are either overly complex or just reimaginings of old franchises, the popular eight-episode series gives viewers a window into a more simple time of TV culture.

The series, written by the minds behind “Wayward Pines,” the Duffer Brothers, is set in the fictitious town of Hawkins, Indiana in the 1980s.

In a town where nothing ever seems to happen, 12-year-old Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears without a trace. After discovering a mysterious girl in the woods with a shaved head and a tattoo of her name, the number eleven, on her wrist, Will’s three best friends join forces with “El” (Millie Bobby Brown) and her telekinetic powers to find their friend. However, unbeknownst to the trio, El faces some monsters of her own.

While Will’s friends investigate his disappearance with retro two-way radios and pocket compasses, the adults in the town treat Will’s mom, Joyce (Winona Ryder), like she’s lost her mind. After the disappearance, Joyce begins obsessively hanging Christmas lights throughout her home because she believes her lost son is communicating with her through electrical currents.

Many questioned Netflix’s choice of Ryder for the series, citing the actress’ recent lack of visibility in the Hollywood film spotlight. However, Ryder’s stunning performance has put all questions to rest.

Despite Ryder’s character spending the majority of the eight-hour series either on the verge of tears or talking to flickering light bulbs, Ryder executes her character perfectly. You can feel her pain and suffering at the loss of her son, as well as the isolation she feels from the rest of the community as she holds onto a sliver of hope.

However, strong casting is not the only thing that makes the show stand out; the Duffer Brothers incorporate something for viewers of all ages. Each group of characters face problems everyone has to deal with at least once in their lifetime. Will’s best friends are bullied at school. His friend’s older sister faces the pressure to change herself in order to fit to the standards of the school player, and Will’s older brother struggles as a social outcast.

Each episode is filled with suspenseful bread crumbs that leave viewers hungry for more.

Based on viewer reactions, Netflix has already renewed the show for a second season, slated to air next summer.

Overall, the series is something all Netflix subscribers should add to their queue. The show undoubtedly has its nerdy moments, and the ‘80s culture might not resonate with everyone. But “Stranger Things” is an excellent sci-fi thriller that you can watch with the family.

2 Comments on A Blast From the Past: Stranger Things Pays a Thrilling Tribute to ’80s Pop Culture

  1. I loved this series!!! Your praise is well-deserved and true to the show. I had not realized how much I was missing the novels of Stephen King; the movies of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter — heck, even John Hughes. The visual and thematic references were really fun to pick out, and I am eagerly looking forward to the next season. To fill the void left by Stranger Things, may I suggest Humans, a BBC show that can be streamed for free by Amazon Prime members. It owes a strong debt to Philip K. Dick, among other sci-fi giants, but it is filled with deep and well-written characters who are managing human — not necessarily technological — problems.

  2. PS — I love to see the internet memes related to this show. The fans have lively wits!

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