Stranger Things Season One (2016)

I’m a little late to the party with ‘Stranger Things’ by about 7 year but its only recently that its appeared on DVD. Actually, the first three seasons have been sealed as a package but not as a boxset, so thought it would be prudent to review each season separately. I’m not going to go into too many plot details, spoiler being one of the reasons, and I doubt if I’m the only one who is looking at this series for the first season. All digital channels want to milk repeats and attract viewers to their channels before DVD/Blu-ray releases but this was a lengthy wait.

The first episode dropped in running, having to establish characters and move the plot along and set in 1984 so, technically, a historical SF drama. I thought one of the four teen geeks playing a role-playing game, later named Mike Wheeler (actor Finn Wolfhard) at the beginning was a girl but then a later crew-cut character, called Eleven (actress Millie Bobby Brown), was also a boy. Whether that was intentional or not is debatable. It also felt a bit like spot the dick competition, probably to throw people and then dimensionalise a bit later. Certainly the head cop, Jim Hopper (actor David Harbour), starts off that way. Two plots are introduced. The first is an escape from a secret establishment, the Hawkins National Laboratory, near the town, done in the classic way of grabbing a scientist from above on the way out. The other is the kidnapping/disappearance of the teen geek Will Byers (actor Noah Schnapp), although there’s a fair bet the connection between the two events has to be stronger than the appearance of the telekinetic but hungry Eleven. Speaking of Byers, you have to wonder at his name being a homage to one of the Lone Gunman characters. Certainly the night atmosphere borrows heavily from ‘The X-Files’, although I’m less sure this is juvenile entertainment, even if the other three geeks start looking for their pal late at night, despite the top cop forbidding them.

Much of the plot surrounds whether Will Byers is dead or been spirited to another dimension with mother Joyce Byers (actress Winona Ryder) convincing Hopper to help her and him finding slowly convinced she’s right. Mike and his remaining two pals, Dustin Henderson (actor Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas Sinclair (actor Caleb McLaughlin) encounter the lost Eleven and discover she’s a telekinetic but gets spent with too much exertion that way and accompanying nose bleed (shades of Andy McGee from the original 1982 film ‘Firestarter’, as indeed the mysterious company). They also succeed in keeping her hidden in the Wheeler basement and Mike sneaks food to feed her. Eleven’s history slowly unravels but not necessarily told to the boys but is clearly not good. There’s no reference to how she was educated or how she coped with limited contact with people of her old age. Considering she was shown occasionally killing her guards telekinetically, you would have to wonder why they weren’t more apprehensive in her presence. The needs to use her to access the hidden dimension, let alone how they discovered it and the creatures it contains is never explained. Bear in mind I’ve only watched the first season and kept away from reading about the show so don’t know where that will lead yet. It also appears a lot more people than Will Byers have been literally sucked into this dimension and really killed although doesn’t explain how he survived so long, although the end of the eighth episode seems to suggest he is a stalking horse. Oh, chucked into this is the usual school problems at two different age levels where bullying geeks is the American norm, hardly a good idea when the geeks sort the problems out. We really need to change that image, at least a little bit, than showing them getting a thumping.

As I got to the end of the first season, there were obvious and occasionally blatant homages to ‘The X-Files’, Stephen King and ‘Buffy’. Do you remember in one of the episodes one of the gang questioned why most of the adults don’t recognise the vampire and other menaces at Sunnydale and told they censor it out of their lives. With the town of Hawkins as being even more intense on that thought. The majority of adults are idiots, they don’t even keep track of their kids and even when the Hawkins National Laboratory people come to Mike’s home, automatically accept their authority, not even realise that Eleven had been in their home for nearly a week. If this is truly the way American households are run, then its truly a frightening place. You must ask yourself if you lived in such a town, would you plan to move elsewhere or do something to make a difference? Likewise, it leaves odd questions like just where do the workers at the Hawkins National Laboratory live and if at Hawkins, they don’t appear to have any community spirit and people would know who they are.

The extras on each DVD is the same one, with its creators, the Duffer brothers/twins, having some fun with the cast for a couple minutes, although I’m not sure if they really dress that way.

Did I like it? Well, I can see why its popular but there is so much borrowed from earlier sources, even as homage blending probably not known to younger audiences, at least not in detail, that you have to question anything where it might be original is it really. It’s a good casting and Eleven actress Millie Bobby Brown is obviously going to be a breakout star. Its definitely an intense viewing that leaves as many questions, as you can see above, as answers.

GF Willmetts

May 2023

(pub: Widescreen Presentation/Lionsgate. 2 DVDs episodes 440 minutes 8 * 55 minute episodes and one extra duplicated. Price:  (UK). ASIN: 300002792)

cast: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp and many, many more.

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