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Forsgren: Are you watching ‘Stranger Things’ on Netflix?

The Art of Nerding Out

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Are you a child of the 80’s? Did you grow up with the films like “Goonies”, “Stand By Me” and the 1982 version of “The Thing”? Are you a fan of the storytelling of Stephen King? Do you like your movie music very minimalistic and played on wheezing old synthesizers?

If you answered “Yes” to more than one of those questions and you haven’t checked out the new Netflix series “Stranger Things”, then I have one last question for you: WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!!

”Stranger Things” is not only a terrifically told story, full of great characters and creepy thrills, it’s also a tidal wave of nostalgia for anyone who was a kid in the 1980s. The show’s story unspools after the mysterious disappearance of Will Byer. Will’s mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder), is sure that he’s still alive somewhere and she harangues police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) into helping her find him.

Meanwhile, Will’s friends Mike (Finn Wolfard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) conduct their own search. They run across a lost girl known only as “Eleven” (Millie Bobby Brown) who has some pretty interesting abilities. And Will’s brother, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is tasked with holding the family together while forming a new bond with Nancy (Natalia Dyer) before later joining the search.

The easiest way to describe “Stranger Things” is to say it’s what you’d get if you took the fiction of Stephen King and the movies of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter and mashed them all together. The show focuses on the Byer household, a single-parent home headed by the mother, Joyce. The absent father was an issue in a number of Spielberg movies, including “E.T.” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”.

The show also gets a lot of mileage from the ‘kids-on-an-adventure’ element that features in several movies Spielberg worked on, like “Goonies”. Meanwhile, the character of Eleven is a throwback to the Stephen King character Carrie, a young lady who can be endearing one moment and off-putting the next. And Millie Bobby Brown is spectacular in the role.

The tone of “Stranger Things” is a fusion of Spielberg’s view of adolescence and King’s sense of dread. Add to that a huge dollop of John Carpenter-style creepiness. Much of the creepiness is supplied by the show’s musical score, a minimalist soundscape of pulsing synthesizers. Listen to the score to Carpenter movies like “Halloween” and “Big Trouble in Little China” and you’ll hear very similar music. Though the music is simple, it provides a ton of atmosphere.

While Spielberg, King and Carpenter are the major influences, there are plenty of nods to other beloved movies. The secret government lab in the show is a descendant of similar settings in multiple movies from back in the 80s. We see references to “Evil Dead” and “The Thing”, and the kids call being betrayed by people they trust “Lando”, a reference to the traitorous “friend” who handed Han Solo over to Darth Vader in “Empire Strikes Back”. A parallel universe called “The Upside-Down” feels like something out of a “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie.

All the nostalgia and references don’t stop the folks responsible for “Stranger Things” from telling a really good story. This story has heartfelt, emotional moments, as well as plenty of tension and suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat and your stomach in knots. The acting, from a cast featuring iconic 80s actors Ryder and Matthew Modine, is stellar. Unraveling the mystery surrounding Will Byer’s disappearance is the most fun I’ve had with a TV show in ages.

All in all, “Stranger Things” is a gripping story told in a way that brings back a lot of happy memories of good times long gone. If you grew up in the 80s, like me, you should definitely check it out. Even if you’re not an 80’s kid, it’s still well worth your time.

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