Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 1, 2018)
In the same vein as 2011’s Super 8, the Netflix series Stranger Thing offers a love letter to early 1980s sci-fi/fantasy. Indeed, the story even takes place in 1983, a factor that allows it to embrace its inspirations more heavily.
This two-disc Blu-ray package boasts all eight of Season One’s episodes. The plot synopses come straight from the disc menus.
The Vanishing of Will Byers: “On his way home from a friend’s house, young Will (Noah Schnapp) sees something terrifying. Nearby, a sinister secret lurks in the depths of a government lab.”
As noted at the story, Things wears its influences on its sleeve, with obvious nods toward ET the Extraterrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, among others. The show manages to go down its own path to a degree, though, and “Vanishing” becomes a reasonably efficient introduction to the narrative.
The Weirdo on Maple Street: “Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) try to talk to the girl (Millie Bobby Brown) they found in the woods. Hopper (David Harbour) questions an anxious Joyce (Winona Ryder) about an unsettling phone call.”
More sleeve-wearing occurs here, as the Mike/Eleven relationship hearkens back to Elliott/ET – especially when Mike shows the girl his possessions. Even without that, “Weirdo” doesn’t come together in a terribly concise way, mainly because it often feels like a few different tales crammed into one. Hopefully the series will pick up soon, but so far, I can’t claim it enchants me.
Holly, Jolly: “An increasingly concerned Nancy (Natalia Dyer) looks for Barb (Shannon Purser) and finds out what Jonathan’s (Charlie Heaton) been up to. Joyce is convinced Will is trying to talk to her.”
With “Holly”, we continue to see the strong influence of various films, and a Poltergeist flavor becomes obvious via Joyce’s activities. That said, “Holly” manages to offer the most interesting episode to date, as it provides forward momentum that finally makes me want to see what happens next.
The Body: “Refusing to believe Will is dead, Joyce tries to connect with her son. The boys give Eleven a makeover. Nancy and Jonathan form an unlikely alliance.”
After the increased drama of “Holly”, “Body” feels like a bit of a letdown, but not a major one. While it lacks the same drive of its predecessor, it still manages to advance the story in a reasonably satisfying manner.
The Flea and the Acrobat: “Hopper breaks into the lab while Nancy and Jonathan confront the force that took Will. The boys ask Mr. Clarke (Randy Havens) how to travel to another dimension.”
Man, will the series ever let Lucas act like anything other than a jerk? The show makes him seem like such a prick that it never feels clear why the other kids are pals with him.
Despite my increasing annoyance at that one-note character, “Flea” manages some good elements, mainly because it advances alliances and sends matters closer to some form of real revelation. We get a solid push ahead as the season’s second half begins.
The Monster: “A frantic Jonathan looks for Nancy in the darkness, but Steve’s (Joe Keery) looking for her too. Hopper and Joyce uncover the truth about the lab’s experiments.”
At best, “Monster” delivers decent exposition. I can’t claim it does much more than that, though, so a few predictable developments make this a somewhat spotty show.
The Bathtub: “Eleven struggles to reach Will, while Lucas wanrs that ‘the bad men are coming’. Nancy and Jonathan show the police what Jonathan caught on camera.”
With little time left in Season One, “Bathtub” ramps up the action to a decent degree. It does what it needs to do, but I can’t say it really revs up the narrative to the level of excitement I’d expect. It’s another decent show but not one that excels.
The Upside Down: “Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) holds Hopper and Joyce for questioning while the boys wait with Eleven in the gym. Back at Will’s, Nancy and Jonathan prepare for battle.”
Despite the expected action-packed finale – with ample nods toward Alien - I can’t say “Down” finishes Season One on an especially high note. It concludes matters in a fairly basic manner and lacks a lot of real energy.
The same goes for S1 of Stranger Things as a whole. While its eight episodes kept me interested, they never turned the series into something that made my dying to see what happened next. This became serviceable entertainment but not anything that boasted real inspiration.