Created by the twin Duffer brothers, Matt and Ross, Stranger Things is undoubtedly one of Netflix’s most popular shows, one that attained meteoric success revolving around the classic theme of child endangerment situated in a fictitious Indiana town of Hawkins. The wide range of characters includes brave kids riding bikes to locate their missing friend before encountering and befriending a young girl with telekinetic abilities. These children, as well as the helpless adults, encounter various dangerous species who are involved in inter-dimensional travel while battling the corrupt bureaucracy and other pervading threats. A dream concoction of children’s imagination, the series focuses on how the goofballs manage to stay float amidst hostilities, brimming with fun and quirks.
Stranger Things had an inarguable contribution in changing the course of Netflix’s history. Released in 2016, the series witnessed an unbelievable spike in viewership during the infamous “streaming wars” between Netflix and other streaming giants. Stranger Things’ popularity helped Netflix shake off its sleepy stature and gain a massive number of subscribers whose entry proved to be crucial to the sustenance of the streaming platform. The huge growth also led to a massive increase in revenue and profits, thus helping Netflix emerge as the indomitable victor. Although some other films and shows added to Netflix’s growing popularity, it was Stranger Things who single-handedly helped bring Netflix’s subscriber count to a whopping 158.33 million, contributing greatly to its international fanbase as well.
The series comprises a set of incredibly talented actors. From child stars like Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Noah Schnapp, Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo and more stunning the wider audience who were stunned by their compelling performances to veterans like Winona Ryder and David Harbour, the cast of Stranger Things is enviably talented. While the show boasts of various characters with layered personalities extending from a wide range of grey to white, the lead characters are intriguing. The success of Stranger Things had a profound impact on most of the cast. From Wolfhard, Brown, Matterazzo, Laughlin and Schnapp becoming rising sensations to Ryder making a bombastic on-screen return, the series had a positive impact on their careers.
All the young protagonists undergo massive character development and their roles are well-rounded, journeying into adulthood amidst various seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The parallel storylines and the looming dangers of the Upside Down that plague their lives complement their characters. The commendable growth of the personalities, namely that of Stevie Harrington and Jim Hopper, is worth the hype. Millie Bobby Brown was at an unbearable low where she was met with “truckloads” of rejection and almost gave up on her dreams. However, impressed by her performance in Intruders, the master of horror, Stephen King himself, convinced her to keep at it. As Brown bagged her role as Eleven, and “everything changed” as her career rejuvenated.
The Duffer Brothers, who are huge Stephen King fans, initially wanted to direct a remake of the iconic horror movie It before landing Stranger Things. After being refused, they decided to pay tribute to King’s legendary novel in their show that would comprise their experience as children while romanticising the 1980s. The entire setting of the series feels like a Stephen King story, with Hawkins being a small sleepy town harbouring secrets and being home to a group of daring kids who seem more responsible and able than the dysfunctional adults. Some of the best elements of King’s stories – including horror and the classic dichotomy between good and evil – is reflected brilliantly in the series.
The showrunners have managed to resuscitate the sci-fi genre with their modern approach to nostalgia. With nail-biting cliffhangers, wonderful writing and stellar acting, the series derive heavily from the narrative elements of the ’80s. In a world that abounds in retelling and adaptations, the unique plotline reflects various intriguing sci-fi elements including time travel, inter-dimensional travel, monsters and failed science experiments. The show was initially meant to be named “Montauk” as one of the parallel storylines was based heavily on the infamous Montauk project in which the US government allegedly carried out various illegal experiments on unsuspecting children. Via Eleven’s experiences, the Duffer Brothers evoke the horrors that such “lab rats” underwent. The Duffers’ stylised filmmaking is evocative of Steven Spielberg’s prime filmmaking skills and reflects the same visionary and creative streak.
Stranger Things is a romantic ode to all things 1980. Gen X, millennials and Gen Z have always been at loggerheads with each other, divided over ideas and aspirations. In the very middle lies the beautiful ’80s that manages to provoke the audience into a state of nostalgia, grunge aesthetics and more that have formed a major part of the show production that is set in vintage Hawkins. The vivid ’80s imagery is a result of the Duffers’ individual experiences as well as a homage to the glorious days in the history of pop culture, art, music and movies. The kids are playing video games, riding bikes through the suburbs, obsessing over mixtapes and comic books while their fashion impeccably screams 1980. Their carefree, mirthful attitude is undercut by the sudden tragedy involving the disappearance of Will Byers that sends the entire town into a state of frenzy as more sinister secrets are uncovered. The sudden need for responsibility and maturity in the children reflect the ongoing crises in the real world during the decade, namely recession. The many horrors that the children encounter reflect the various real-life horrors the people encountered during what was undoubtedly a turbulent time. With a growing interest in sci-fi films and books including Star Wars and Ghostbusters, the Duffers have managed to paint a vivid and nostalgic picturesque idea of a “utopian” decade that reflects their own childhood and helps to transpose the audience from the mundane contemporary world into the dreamy, grunge-like retro aesthetics of the ’80s.
However, the most evocative element in the show is perhaps the musical score. The Duffer brothers came across the music of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stine – the members of the electronic band Survive – for the 2014 film The Guest and were awe-struck by the sound. They convinced the duo to quit their day-time jobs to work on the sets of Stranger Things to which they complied. They derived inspiration from their earlier work and reworked the theme song, adding a sense of climactic urgency and sinister feel to the sound. In their homage to the ’80s, extensive use of synthesizers helps accentuate the atmospheric feel of the show. The famous original theme that won the duo an Emmy was followed by a fantastic playlist over the three seasons that aided the viewers in their trip down a nostalgic memory lane.
Released on July 15, 2016, the first season of Stranger Things was groundbreaking in various ways. Its undeniable impact on the history of series is palpable as it paved the way for the resuscitation of a nearly dead genre. It proved that sci-fi horror can transcend all genres by incorporating elements of humour, romance, intense emotional upheavals, familial bondings and more within the show. Layered characters, killer performances, evocative music and brilliant dialogues complement this series that manages to reign supreme even after five years since its release. Evoking 1980s nostalgia, the show provides a portal into an otherworldly small town where kids are superheroes who do not wear capes and can save the day. An absolutely perfect portrayal of our wildest dreams.
“Make mistakes, learn from them, and when life hurts you (because it will), remember the hurt. The hurt is good. It means you’re out of that cave.” — Hopper.
This article was first published through Best of Netflix.