Currently Watching: “Stranger Things”

It’s a new Netflix show, and I’m on episode 6 of 8. Full review will come later.

The plot: A girl with psychic powers escapes from a government facility at the same time a young boy disappears after being attacked by a mysterious monster. The plot follows various groups of people – the psychic girl, the young boy’s friends, the Chief of Police, the boy’s mother, the boy’s brother, a teenage girl whose friend goes missing (it does a really great job juggling a lot of balls) – as they pull on the various threads surrounding the mystery of the boy’s disappearance and slowly uncover a vast government conspiracy hiding evidence of paranormal investigations.

Current thoughts: Extremely entertaining. The writers are experts at milking suspense, and the characters are excellently drawn. There’s a wonderful bit of superversion in there about the nature of relationships between people: The big conspiracy the governments are trying to hide from everybody is starting to fail because the government is failing to take into account personal relationships in favor of statistics. Maybe, statistically, it’s a perfectly reasonable conclusion to draw that a man with fingerprints on a gun next to his head shot himself, but when you’re friends with the guy, it starts to sound less plausible. Maybe a teenager stealing a car and running off is reasonable and commonplace, but when you know said teen the facts start to look a little shaky. And so on and so forth.

My biggest criticism is that the kids in the show are too competent; they get further in the mystery faster than everybody else despite being 11 or 12 at most. But then, in keeping with the 80’s movies this show is so obviously inspired by, this is all in fine Goonies tradition, and so is somewhat forgivable.

This is a very well executed show, and I look forward to finishing the story. I’m honestly not sure how this is going to end, and I can’t wait to find out.

  • dgarsys

    The spielberg feel, right down to the logo and the look, are up front and center.

    It’s like Spielberg mixed with a dose of King, follows many of the normal horror movie tropes (I won’t spoil it, but even in the end) without going as far down the nihilistic route as Kind tends to.

    My complaints:

    Frogface gets several moments where he can demonstrate his growth, and instead a) gets it taken from him (admittedly necessary to set up a later scene) and then chickens out/gets saved again. He gets the least satisfying arc in the whole thing, compared to his sister, the psychic girl, the mom, the missing boy’s older brother, anyone.

    Several grrrrl power moments that just weren’t necessary. We’ve already got psychic girl, not-without-my-child mom, etc. Was there any reason for suburban never-shot girl to show up boy raised with guns on her first try? That said, they were just moments.

    OK. Winona Rider. I know she can act better, and did further in, but spent half of the story in one-note “I know it’s crazy” hysterics mode. Dunno if it was the writers or her performance. It was annoying, flat rendition of the role of “mash potato devil mountain obsession” done better in Close Encounters.

    That all aside – pacing, timing, most of the character arcs, were excellent, and engaging, letting me get past the eye-rollers. Of particular note was the “bad boy jerk” Steve – who in the expanded time available in 8 hours has one of the more interesting arcs in the series, without ever changing or betraying what made him start out as the bad boy jerk.

    ———————–SPOILER————

    halfway through we find out the background premise is borrowed from Half Life, and the second of the Moonlight Bay stories by Dean Koontz – Seize the Night, mixed with some truly dark aspects of Faerie.

    This is not a complaint – in fact, it’s rich ground that has not been mined for all of the inherent possibilities.

    • Anthony M

      SPOILERS

      Finished the series. I didn’t see any overbearing grrrrrrrl power moments. I don’t think she showed up the other guy. It was the first shot she ever took – she got lucky.

      I think Winona Rider got too much praise, yeah. She put on a good performance, but it was a very one note performance, and she had the least interesting character arc.

      Don’t get me wrong, there was a good reason it had to be one note, and it was a powerful character arc, if not nuanced…but it was still one note.

      I thought Frogface was extremely brave. What I particularly about his and El’s relationship is that all three times El rescued him and the other boys, he never asked her to. The first time he shoved the bullies, she stopped them, but he never asked her to do anything. The second time, he goes to sacrifice himself, and she rescues him without even knowing she’s there.

      And the third time, when the monster attacks, none of the three even consider asking El to sacrifice herself, more willing to risk their lives for her with slingshots.

      Plus the kid was just a good actor, I thought.

      Steve’s character arc was great! I actually felt like they gave Johnathan too much of a pass…peeping Tom photos are NOT cool. He starts to go into a bit why he took them, but…it was weird.

      Did the timeline feel accelerated to you? The whole “Will is missing/Will is found” storyline took a WEEK. I felt like it took a month at least, though I guess nothing was actually out of place.

      The characters generally were just wonderful. All truly three dimensional people, and all with satisfying character arcs.

      Basically, the show didn’t really do anything that had never been done before, but it executed what it was doing really, really, REALLY well, and it had a satisfyingly superversive air to it. I was mightily impressed.

      • dgarsys

        Spoiler spoiler spoiler

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        Finished the series. I didn’t see any overbearing grrrrrrrl power moments. I don’t think she showed up the other guy. It was the first shot she ever took – she got lucky.

        Difference in outlook. I think the writers were in general too good storytellers to shove anything TOO obvious. If luck, I’d expect more surprise? Dunno. I’m not faulting her bravery or determination, her growth and arc were also one of the well written ones. Her time on the other side was pitch-perfect, other than violating “don’t split the party”. The scene with the pistol just stuck out as odd, and uncommented upon – and could’ve benefitted from a few more seconds of context.

        That said, it was minor.

        I think Winona Rider got too much praise, yeah. She put on a good performance, but it was a very one note performance, and she had the least interesting character arc.

        Don’t get me wrong, there was a good reason it had to be one note, and it was a powerful character arc, if not nuanced…but it was still one note.

        But even there, they could’ve played some chords or SOMETHING. My memory is fuzzy, but think of “Roy Neary” (Richard Dreyfuss) from Close Encounters – everyone thought he was NUTS. Hell, HE did.

        I thought Frogface was extremely brave. What I particularly about his and El’s relationship is that all three times El rescued him and the other boys, he never asked her to. The first time he shoved the bullies, she stopped them, but he never asked her to do anything. The second time, he goes to sacrifice himself, and she rescues him without even knowing she’s there.

        And the third time, when the monster attacks, none of the three even consider asking El to sacrifice herself, more willing to risk their lives for her with slingshots.

        Cannot fault his bravery – he was very much so. And yes, he sacrificed himself, or put himself in that position. But is that the only lesson he gets to learn? He gets to sacrifiece, potentially kill himself, apologize for being in the wrong with his friends. While he is the guiding force around which the party gathers, he just didn’t get his “moment”.

        One CAN argue that his moment was “getting the band back together” – AND that he was the de facto leader. That said, his character, for better or for worse, was also the one who most uncritically “listened and believed”.

        Keeping El away from his parents was done brilliantly, and her moments – especially exploring the house, were awesome.

        Plus the kid was just a good actor, I thought.

        Yep. I think that’s why I still like his character. He sold it.

        Steve’s character arc was great! I actually felt like they gave Johnathan too much of a pass…peeping Tom photos are NOT cool. He starts to go into a bit why he took them, but…it was weird.

        Reminds me of some discussion of the Cobra Kai in Karate Kid basically being the good guys, and one can certainly imagine, with more time, them teaming up with Ralph Macchio…

        Did the timeline feel accelerated to you? The whole “Will is missing/Will is found” storyline took a WEEK. I felt like it took a month at least, though I guess nothing was actually out of place.

        Yeah, a LOT happened, but I think the timing works out, it’s just a very BUSY week.

        The characters generally were just wonderful. All truly three dimensional people, and all with satisfying character arcs.

        Yes, and disagreeing with the last is a matter of how closely we want to define “all”. Well worth watching, and unlike a lot of King’s work, or other horror movies, I could certainly cheer for a lot of them. There is even some, but not much, sympathy available for Matthew Modine’s character.

        Basically, the show didn’t really do anything that had never been done before, but it executed what it was doing really, really, REALLY well, and it had a satisfyingly superversive air to it. I was mightily impressed.

        Absolutely agree.

        Also – and this comment is also a SPOILER – I know it was established well and entirely in character, but Hopper essentially trading El’s life for Will’s is REALLY screwed up. He’s not Will’s father, he’s the chief of police, and your job is to protect everybody, not just to find one person.

        I get why he did, it was a decision completely informed and justified by his experiences, but I still lost a lot of respect for him (though him leaving out eggos for El at the end of the show was oddly sweet). Not cool, Hopper.

        Yeah. I get it too… but he sold out the girl he knew was being used. That said, I think he regretted that decision, and maybe even made that deal thinking he might be able to do something later, but needed to get into the other side first.

        I think you’re spot on – I get why he did it but damn… really dude?

      • dgarsys

        I’ll also note that at least one die-hard feminist I know was gushing about how Frogface being saved by El was a “reverse of the usual damsel in distress” trope….

        And just like the typical ending that promises that bad things are not truly gone…. I don’t know if other aspects of the conclusion are as final either.

        • Anthony M

          Meh. “Die-hard feminists” are notorious for turning literally ANYTHING into support for their side. What they think of that scene means about as much to me as their thoughts on the price of tea in China. I thought it was a very well done scene.

          They really went for the home run in Will’s rescue scene. The actors milked it for all it was worth, and the cancer flashbacks just added to Hopper’s internal drama.

          One could make the argument that it was emotionally manipulative, but you know what? Screw that. I was REALLY invested at that point, and I think they sold the Hell out of it. When Will started coughing I was practically a wreck. If somebody is that good at it, manipulate away.

          A scene can really only have that sort of effect on me if I care really deeply about the characters, and if you have me caring that much, you earned that moment. I think that scene alone justified the existence of the finale.

          • Emotional manipulation is what writers -do-.

          • Anthony M

            Eh, there’s definitely a point where it sometimes becomes too obvious that a writer is working hard to create a specific emotion.

            This scene was very open about attempting to tug your heartstrings, but it did such a good job at it I’m willing to let it slide.

    • Anthony M

      Also – and this comment is also a SPOILER – I know it was established well and entirely in character, but Hopper essentially trading El’s life for Will’s is REALLY screwed up. He’s not Will’s father, he’s the chief of police, and your job is to protect everybody, not just to find one person.

      I get why he did, it was a decision completely informed and justified by his experiences, but I still lost a lot of respect for him (though him leaving out eggos for El at the end of the show was oddly sweet). Not cool, Hopper.