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(Netflix streaming, 8 x 45-min episodes released en bloc.)

Recently we were treated to Deutschland 83, a Cold War spy drama that attracted much praise for its evocation of 1983 Germany in a positive nostalgia-fest of music, fashion and cars for anyone who remembers the era. Now we have Stranger Things, a drama that is a veritable hymn to every horror/sf film, tv series or book set in early 1980s small-town America.

(Odd trivia point: the events of Stranger Things take place over a few days in November 1983, at almost exactly the same time as EX ABLE ARCHER and thus the final couple of episodes of Deutschland 83.)

Stranger Things has been described as very much a homage to the works of Steven King, John Carpenter and Stephen Spielberg, although the work it very much put me in mind of was Dan Simmons' Summer of Night, with a group of pre-teens faced with supernatural horror in a Midwest town. Without giving too much away, Stranger Things sits closer to the sf rather than supernatural end of the horror axis, although it's careful not to explain everything (and there is certainly plenty of scope for a second season.)

Winona Ryder is superb as Joyce Byers, mother of Will Byers - one of the group of D&D-playing proto-nerds the show centres on - whose disappearance drives the plot. Her depiction of someone who's fully aware that her behaviour looks just like paranoid psychosis, but doesn't care because she know's she's right, is as compelling as it is horrifying. Of the young actors, all are excellent; I'm sure many of the show's fans recognise elements of their younger selves in the characters of Mike, Dustin and Lucas, whilst the show's real breakout role is 12-year-old Millie Bobbie Brown as 'El', the near-mute, shaven-headed girl whose appearance is as mysterious as (and quite obviously connected to) the disappearance of Will. Combining an intensity beyond her years with an awkward naiveté, she perfectly conveys a character struggling to cope both with an outside world she has never experienced and abilities she barely understands.

Stranger Things isn't perfect. The sets for the more sf/horror elements of the show vary from impressively well-realised to looking all too much like Doctor Who of the era it's set in, and for a show that is so dense with reference to horror movies of the era you find yourself shouting at some of the characters "Haven't you seen Alien?" But I can forgive Stranger Things that, as I forgave Deutschland 83 its habit of making its central character the beneficiary of some of the most unlikely turns of good luck so as to get him out of the scrapes the plot dropped him in to. Both series are as enjoyable both for the evocation of an era as for their plots, and if I'm in the ideal target audience for Stranger Things then certainly so are many of my friends. If you've got access to Netflix, give it a go - but be prepared to binge, as you won't want to be waiting to find out what happens next.
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major_clanger: Clangers (Royal Mail stamp) (Default)
Simon Bradshaw

May 2017

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