If you want to know what happens on Stranger Things, you won’t get the skinny here. This is a strictly no-spoiler zone. To give anything away about the hit Netflix series would mean taking something away from the viewer. Every genius revelation, jolt and deep well of emotion deserves to be experienced firsthand.
Stranger Things does what every sci-fi TV series and film has ever strived to do: It brings out the 12-year-old in us. Not the 12-year-old of today, but the 12-year-old of 1983, when the series takes place. That kid who fell in love with the movies of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. The one who played Dungeons & Dragons in the basement until he got sickly pale for lack of sunlight. The one who knew — without even realizing it — that there is no greater feeling of freedom than riding around on your bike. The same kid who walked into Return of the Jedi for the first time, not knowing what to expect because there was no such thing as the Internet. There was only what the other kids told you, and whatever you gleaned from comic books and the intrepid reporting of Tiger Beat magazine. Whether you are an actual child of the ’80s doesn’t matter. Stranger Things taps into that need for wonder and the fascination with the dark side we never lose — even if you thought that kid inside you was gone for good.
Created by the Duffer Brothers (Matt and Ross), Stranger Things is steeped in nostalgia and yet is its own creation, somehow igniting both memory and imagination. There are many nods to iconic 1980s movies and pop culture, including the creepy, cool synth soundtrack by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. Dungeons & Dragons, the granddaddy of RPGs, holds sway, and the snotty rich kids are reminiscent of the ones who always made Molly Ringwald cry. Retro-love aside, the thing that will make Stranger Things your new favorite show isn’t how true it is to the past, but how truly it resonates with what’s timeless.
The brilliant cast portrays complex, flawed characters that give heart and light — and even laughter — to a storyline filled with darkness and paranoia. Winona Ryder makes a stunning comeback as Joyce Byers, a woman who trembles with emotion. (Make no mistake: The woman is made of steel.) David Harbour plays Jim Hopper, the chief of police who’s gotten used to sleepwalking through life until a nightmare in his town shakes him awake. Much praise has been given to Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven) and it’s all deserved, but kudos also go to all the fine young actors. Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery and Noah Schnapp play kids who inhabit their own complicated world right under their parents’ noses. What is especially inspired is that the characters, adult and child alike, who seem the least likely to be brave — the loner, the geeks, the freaks, the good girl, the douchebag — transform before our eyes. That is at the core of what makes us care so deeply about them and the story.
Brilliantly written and perfectly paced throughout its eight episodes, Stranger Things achieves the near impossible: It keeps you in its grip until the end, when there’s just enough resolution to satisfy, but ample mystery remaining to let you know it’s just getting started.
Out of the Box is a biweekly column by VCReporter staff and contributors about television and streaming content.