Stranger Things is an American science fiction horror drama television series created by the Duffer Brothers that is streaming on Netflix. The brothers serve as showrunners and are executive producers along with Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen. The first season of the series was released on Netflix on July 15, 2016, with the second, third, and fourth seasons following in October 2017, July 2019, and May and July 2022, respectively. In February 2022, the series was renewed for a fifth and final season.
Set in the 1980s primarily in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, the series centers around numerous supernatural events occurring around the town, specifically around their connection to a hostile alternate reality called the “Upside Down”, after a link between it and Earth is made by a United States government child experimentation facility. The series stars Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Joe Keery, Cara Buono, Matthew Modine, Dacre Montgomery, Sean Astin, Paul Reiser, Maya Hawke, Priah Ferguson, and Brett Gelman.
The Duffer Brothers developed Stranger Things as a mix of investigative drama and supernatural elements portrayed with horror, science fiction and childlike sensibilities. Setting the series in the 1980s, the Duffer Brothers infused references to the pop culture of that decade while themes and directorial aspects were inspired by the works of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, David Lynch, Stephen King, Wes Craven and H. P. Lovecraft. They also took inspiration from experiments conducted during the Cold War and conspiracy theories involving secret government experiments.
I watched Season One of Stranger Things a few years ago after getting a downloaded copy. After finally getting Netflix I finally got around to watching the remaining seasons. Having binged all four seasons, although there were aspects that seemed somewhat stretched, such as breaking back into a Russian prison and Jim Hopper being able to wield a sword seemingly without much training, I think that the story line does a pretty good job in tying everything together. What I liked the most was how the series finds balance between the story and growth of the characters. Whether it be Hopper’s human foibles, Steve Harrington’s maturity beyond being a jock or the various recognitions of failed love, there was something relatable throughout. Although each of these characters seem to achieve a heroic feet, none are traditional heroes. As Debadrita Sur touches on in regards to Hopper:
Hopper is no hero, nor is he an anti-hero. He does not embark on a quest-like journey. The first season sees Hopper as the Chief of Police in Hawkins, whose alcohol-fuelled life is spent in a drug daze of despair. Hopper is trying to drown himself in hedonism to fill the void inside his heart. He is pathetic and human. When his childhood friend Joyce Byers comes to him tearfully to investigate her son Will’s disappearance, he deals with it very matter-of-factly by addressing it as a simple missing person case. However, he is shaken by Joyce’s comments about how he would react had it been his daughter.
Hopper is a tough guy. He punches people before they can respond to his interrogation — the archetypal strong man. But under this tough exterior lies a grief-stricken, unhappy soul. Imagine losing the apple of your eye to a disease where you can do nothing but helplessly watch her fade away. That is exactly what happened to Hopper.
Or as Guy Dolbey touches on in regards to Donnie Darko.
The difference between these modern reimaginings of ‘80s childhood and the stories they homage is their priorities in terms of character. While these classic entries are often ostensibly coming-of-age stories, this is generally approached in the abstract with their journey representing something grander as opposed to digging into the characters themselves.
On the other hand, Stranger Things and the modern It are heavily character-focused with the former especially using its supernatural elements almost entirely as a catalyst for drama. In this sense, Donnie Darko is the missing link between the original texts and their romantic reimaginings, specifically in the approach to the internality of its characters.
For me there were times the series reminded me a bit of Donnie Darko’s eighties suburbia, Harry Potter’s battle of Voldermort and other times of Buffy and the hellmouth, but in the end with the plethora of references and references the series comes out rather original.