What a year we’ve had so far. Attempted coups, brexits, multiple terrorist attacks and more mass shootings than I dare attempt to tally. If you don’t have the option to turn off screens and retreat somewhere away from humans and concrete, one of the more easily sourced escape routes is the boob tube. I had these friends in grade school whose father referred to such a contraption as the “idiot box”. A bit harsh, perhaps, but considering how much of my entire life I have spent in front of such a device, I have to wonder how accurate the term might actually be.
Lucky for us, every now and then a gem turns up. Stranger Things, created by Matt and Ross Duffer, is set in the fictional small town of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983. The series stars a chain smoking Winona Ryder as the mother of a missing boy and David Harbour, the reluctant but dogged Chief of Police charged with the task of finding him.
If there is anything we have learned from David Lynch; it’s that weird stuff happens in small towns. The tone is set with the opening dark, synth heavy credit score (composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein). It almost feels like it has the hallmarks of an old school John Carpenter film. There are, in fact, several references to his work in music, dialogue and background artwork. The type face of the title, reminiscent of Stephen King’s Needful Things, also strikes an 80s tinged familiar feeling, although the novel would not get published until 1991.
The opening scene has the central characters of the series, a bunch of outcast misfits, playing Dungeons & Dragons; a game synonymous with all things geek and perfectly summing up the childhoods of many past (and possibly current) basement dwellers. But D&D was more than just a simple board game for people. It was an avenue for childhood imagination to develop and grow. In the age of Pokemon Go, one wonders how much of our children’s collective imagination are fast slipping away.
Don’t get me wrong, I count myself as a fan for all things tech. I often marvel at how far we’ve come in such a short time, especially with respect to gaming graphics. I’m very excited about upcoming VR development. Yet I can’t help but wonder if we are losing something very special along the way. I think the thing that set D&D apart from other games from that era (and this one) is the same reason that books are completely different from the visual medium. Because you have to use your raw, unbridled imagination.
I hope that kids are still discovering books and games like D&D – which by the way, I feel bad admitting I never actually played. My strict Irish Catholic parental units thought it may have have served as a pathway for satanic cannibalism. Glad we all managed to dodge that bullet.
Nostalgia is like a warm blanket that serves as comfort food escapism, and boy, we could certainly use some comfort at the moment. Watching Stranger Things brings back those summers that seemed to never end; filled with bike rides, flashlights and adventure. Of course, to have a really good series you need more than just mac and cheese with ketchup on the side. We know this from the awful, constant barrage of reboots and remakes – cheap facsimiles, lacking in originality and filled with explosive CGI turd courtesy of Hollywood.
Stranger Things, unlike those blockbuster rehashes, isn’t a con artist trying to pickpocket your ATM card; it’s a series with great writing where you’re not sure what lurks around every corner. There are compelling characters executed with performances without pander or weakness; especially rare in the case of child actors. It’s all very refreshing to see something original packaged in such a familiar way.
Until I can invent a time machine to revisit the past or purchase a fortified bunker in the wilderness to spend the present, I’ll be waiting for Season Two of Stranger Things.