Stranger Things have happened. Three times now in fact. The Netflix original TV show, created by Matt and Ross Duffer, follows the weird events that surround a small town in Indiana. What started as a interesting mystery series with nods to the 1980’s is now one of the most popular programs in the world. Some people watch the show for the nostalgia, others have fallen in love with the characters and how they have grown. Some audience members just love it for it’s non-stop thrills and chills. The television show has taken all of these elements and created something very unique, while at the same time planting it in a world that feels familiar.
In the very first episode, there is a conversation between two main characters. Joyce (Winona Ryder) is trying to get the Chief of Police, Hopper (David Harbour), to look for her missing son. Hopper doesn’t take it serious and explains “99 out of 100 times when a kid goes missing they are with a parent or relative.” And Joyce asks “what about the other time?” This weird television show is that 1 out of 100 story. Audiences gravitate towards it because we all, deep down, hope for something like this to exist. People want to believe in something strange, even if it is terrible, over something boring; evil government scientists, people with super powers, and the things that go bump in the night. Tying that together in a time period that we all remember was full of wonder and mystery makes the Duffer Brothers geniuses and created the show we didn’t know we have always needed.
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According to polls done by sites like Statistica, the vast viewership for Stranger Things are in-between the age range of 20-40 years old. The people watching the show either were children in the 1980’s or raised by parents that grew up in that time period. Human’s often remember their childhood fondly, being too ignorant to know how wrong the world is. So the time period chosen reminds people of that mind set when the world was more magical. Mix that together with most of the audience member’s being nerds, and this television show hits the sweet spot of the demographic that rules the ratings board. The inclusion of things like Back to the Future in the movies, New Coke, and the red scare of Communism teleports the viewer to that time period. There are some scenes where they go a little too far, basically being a commercial, but the effect still works. However, Stranger Things doesn’t just borrow it’s clothing, product placement, and environment from the 1980’s, it uses the story elements as well.
Some of the greatest cinema block busters and cult classics came out from 1982-1989. Thirty years later, movie theaters are still full of the franchises that were made famous in that time period. The Duffer Brothers created a television universe that can sample the elements from those movies without making it feel like it’s an obvious rip off. In Season 3, there were kids discovering a plot from Russian spies, a serious case of the body snatchers, and the fucking terminator. They literally only refereed to the terminator character as “Arnold Schwarzenegger.” The entire show has reused elements from Alien, Cocoon, E.T, Poltergeist, and The Goonies. The list actually can go on but you get the point. People love the homage the television show has created. Audiences feel like this show was created for them, ensuring the nerds of the 80’s that their favorite films are still the best. Nostalgia is a powerful element and Netflix is using it perfectly. However a show that only references the past alone wouldn’t be as successful if it wasn’t a great show to begin with.
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The show taking place in the 80’s is a major part of why audiences can accept the samples from other movies. However it can stand on it’s own merit, proving the references are not a crutch but a choice. The entire cast does a phenomenal job. The adults and children have grown so much with their relationships and maturity. The Duffer Brothers, along with other main contributors Jessie Nickson-Lopez and Paul Dichter, have created a universe with people you care about. This is important when making a horror show. Audience members actually are afraid for the cast members and do not want to see them die.
People actually feel bad for the life Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has lived. They want to see teenagers like Nancy and Johnathon (Natalia Dyer and Charlie Heaton) in love thrive instead of torn apart, physically. Even their ability to take villains like Steve (Joe Keery) or even Billy (Dacre Montgomery) and make you care about them is a rare talent. The show is written, directed, and shot masterfully. People sitting at home, watching the show in the dark, fear the Demogorgon is outside their home. They can feel the Mind Flayer in the back of their skull. It is not often you see a horror themed television show thrive without the ‘anthology’ gimmick. People have grown to love the fear they feel for these characters and the sadness they comes when they are killed.
It has not been announced if the fourth season of Stranger Things is in the works or not. I definitely want to see more (especially if ‘The American’ in the Russian jail is Hopper or not) however there is always a risk that a show can go downhill. Season 3 was, in my opinion, the greatest one yet. They encapsulated the formula perfectly. The show had highlighted the 80’s troupes, blended the cast together fluently, and turned a plot that could have been cheesy, into something frightening and intense. And most importantly, it ended on a good note that can count as a series finale, if they choose. This is a television program that will go down in history and make all other similar shows after it a pale comparison. Stranger Things is so much more than a a sci-fi story about some random kids in the 80’s; it is the story audience members have always wanted to be a part of. It is an escape from the world we are a part of, after we found out that we are just the 99 out of 100.
Television show watched and analysis written by: Troy Smith