It’s been less than 24 hours and somehow I have managed to watch all of season 2 of Stranger Things. While I’m no foreigner to the Netflix phenomena of binge-watching a TV series, I typically don’t power through shows the way I can with Stranger Things. The mixture of suspense, ‘80’s nostalgia, stellar performances from its cast, geek-driven references, and supernatural-thriller plot devices are the perfect recipe to gain my full interest. It’s this mixture that, in my opinion, has made Stranger Things an explosive hit and here’s why.
****Minor season 1 and 2 spoilers below****
Sex does not always sell
To think that somewhere around 15 networks originally rejected the series is a head scratcher. But then again most networks have carved a way for themselves by selling extreme sensuality and never-ending plot points. Which is why when the shows’ creators the Duffer brothers presented the idea to the networks, the networks just couldn’t grab hold of the vision. Having child leads for an adult audience seemed outlandish. Yet Stranger Things proves that a show can be great without appeasing to sensuality alone. Good characters regardless of their age have a place in any story.
Stranger Things proves that a show can be great without appeasing to sensuality alone.
The group’s childhood innocence takes the focus off of the overplayed, sex-driven plots of our day. While their age plays a factor into this dynamic, their love still manages to hit us at our core. This is because Stranger Things hasn’t been tainted by unchecked passions of lust and constant love triangles. If anything the characters’ friendships have more value since there is actual substance. It is obvious that their loyalties have been developed from going through the highs and lows of life—like when Mike shares the story of being afraid in kindergarten and becoming Will’s friend.
Well thought out characters
There is a sense of beauty in the show’s character development. The characters along with their unique differences all serve a purpose in advancing the plot. Even the overly likable Bob was essential. His death gave Joyce the strength to stop coddling Will so that she could rid him of the shadow monster. This is surprisingly refreshing.
Each character, even the unlikable ones, help us appreciate the heroes and celebrate in their victories. For instance, the unruly Billy character seems to take more screen time than necessary. But his presence provides the reminder that there are still some in Hawkins who haven’t been traumatized by the events in season 1. This makes much of the struggle Nancy and Steve have. Steve who matured as a character yet glosses over past tragedies, and Nancy who seems fixated on the sins of her past. The writers even made up for their past sins by tying in Barbra’s uneventful death!
Gives us a healthy dose of nostalgia
We tend to remember the past in distortion. Psychologist have observed that people tend to look to the past in an optimistic light. We as people encode portions of the past that highlight the good of our experiences and minimize the negative moments. This of course isn’t a blanket disillusionment of past events; rather it is our mind pushing aside the hurt to make way for the silver lining in life.
Stranger Things continuously plays into this. From the music to the clothes to the prop devices that all bring up memories of former times. What so interesting about this nostalgia driven show is much of its younger audience never grew up in the ‘80’s. But this is where the characters come in.
The kids bring in a whole other element of nostalgia. They remind us of simpler times when our imaginations ran wild, friendship was all that mattered, and life was about having adventure. School, work, bills, and all of the typical baggage that comes with adulthood are in the peripheral. The central focus are the genuine relationships.
The value of innocent friendship
Despite being a cast filled with kids, their childhood relationships are what we as an audience connect to the most—even if their experiences are unlike our own.
The “party,” as it is referred to, feels real. Similar to life, their party isn’t always making the best choices. Sometimes the party messes up and hurts one another, as we saw in this season with Dustin harboring a soon to be demodog. But despite their shortcomings, they are bound by a code to never lie to one another and a duty to protect the group. These sentiments create a sense of longing in us. Their relationship is what we too desire out of life. It is within these pure desires that we find ourselves invested in the story and intrigued by how the characters will live out their adventure, because their relationships and journey have become our own.
A reminder of life before all of its technological advancements
Stranger Things inadvertently reminds us of something we rarely take the time to consider: how technology changed our world. While the show isn’t assaulting technology—the kids love their AV club and are total nerds, after all—the show offers a glimpse into the recent past when there was a natural balance between technology and living in the moment. This is in stark contrast with our present reality. So much of life today is focused on social media and manufactured entertainment that we seldom take the time to ask how it is affecting us.
So much of life today is focused on social media and manufactured entertainment that we seldom take the time to ask how it is affecting us.
Interestingly enough, the lack of Twenty-first century forms of communication is what builds the excitement of the show. What would season 1 have looked like if all the boys had cell phones? For starters we would not have felt the tension of Joyce having to stick by the phone incase Will called. Or what would have happened if video games ruled the day instead of imagination based games like Dungeons and Dragons? The boys may have never had the close proximity relationship that built the story.
It is with all of these elements that I can say the Duffer brothers got it right. The strategic themes of innocence, nostalgia, and the beauty of genuine relationships are the reason we are crazy about Stranger Things. Perhaps we can infuse some of these elements back into our own lives and go on a few innocent adventures of our own—but maybe without any Mind Flayers.