After P.T. took the PlayStation Network by storm two years ago (geez, has it already been that long?), I set up my Google news feed with a subcategory specifically for Silent Hill news. I wanted to keep up with the progress of the game, since it looked like the most promising project the series had seen in a decade. After the traumatic cancellation of Silent Hills, that news feed has been mostly populated with articles mourning the loss, or with conspiracy theories about the game's return. Lately, however, a new story has been repeatedly populating that news feed: reviews and interpretations of the Netflix original series "Stranger Things".
With the internet's insistence that Stranger Things is "the show that Silent Hill fans have been waiting for", and some recommendations from co-workers and friends, I decided to give Netflix's new horror thriller a chance. So while House of Cards and Daredevil still sit unwatched in my Netflix queue, my girlfriend and I powered through all eight episodes of Stranger Things within a week.
Stranger Things reminded me a lot less of Silent Hill, and a lot more of Twin Peaks and E.T., but I loved the series nonetheless. I found myself amazed by just how much the show looks and feels like something from the late eighties or early nineties, and by how well it manages to capture a sense of nostalgia for its sources of inspiration without having to license them outright. Hollywood could learn a thing or two from this show. The insistence on reviving franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Transformers, Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, The X-Files, etc., is starting to wear very thin. At best, these films feel like high-budget fan fiction. At worst, they feel like cynical attempts to play off of nostalgia for a quick cash-grab. Very rarely do they feel like genuinely inspired works of creative art. This reliance on adaptation instead of inspiration has created a dearth of creativity that in many cases has tarnished once-venerable intellectual properties.
The internet claims that Stranger Things is "the Silent Hill show that fans have been waiting for".
Stranger Things doesn't stoop so low. It wears its influences proudly on its sleeves, but it also remains, thankfully, it's own entity. It never feels derivative; it never feels stale; and it never feels creatively bankrupt. It's not exactly original (as it blatantly incorporates elements of its inspirations into its plots and characters), but it also manages to occasionally surprise with its clever subversions of genre tropes. It never feels like the shallow fan service that I've gotten so used to seeing from Hollywood blockbusters, and (most importantly) I could enjoy it without the baggage of expectations from a recognized namesake.
Much of this is due to the characters and performances, all of which are great. Normally, I dislike child characters in television and movies because they often feel fake and obnoxious. But the children in Stranger Things feel very genuine (and not just because they play Dungeons & Dragons), and the actors all perform their roles admirably. I especially like police chief Hopper, who feels like a mix between Twin Peaks' Dale Cooper and The X-Files' Fox Mulder, but with his own specific baggage that provides him with the drive to solve the show's mystery. The other characters all work well and feel natural in their own right as well.
The show and its individual episodes are also expertly paced. Each episode feels very much like a chapter in a larger story, but they don't rely on cheap cliff-hangers to try to keep the viewers watching. Episodes never seemed to cut to credits during a moment of action or in the middle of a developing plot thread; instead, they would lead into new actions or into new plot threads and conclude at what feels like a naturally intriguing stopping point. We would watch the new episode because we wanted to see how the story unfolds, not because we wanted to see the resolution to a specific event that cut to credits at the climax. There also wasn't anything too terribly surprising or shocking. This isn't Game of Thrones, so it doesn't revel in suddenly murdering beloved characters for the sake of shock value.
Stranger Things projected an incredible sense of time, place, and nostalgia.
There also wasn't much wasted time or unnecessary exposition. Every little event and detail seemed to contribute to the larger whole and fit into the puzzle or contributed to how the characters solve that puzzle. It's not always apparent from the start, but by the end, I felt that everything had come together well, and each chapter of each plot thread felt like a necessary piece of that plot's conclusion. Eight episodes seems like a short series, but it's actually just the right amount of episodes because the events flow so smoothly.
If the show does anything wrong, it's with the character of Eleven. She routinely acts as a deus ex machina, and seems to go out of her way to keep her motivations secretive and mysterious solely for the purpose of building up some drama. Other characters can also feel cliche, but I liked them all enough that it didn't bother me.
I had been thinking of canceling my Netflix subscription because I rarely carved out the time to watch anything on it. But lately, I've been making myself watch some Netflix shows, and shows like Stranger Things and Ken Burns' The Roosevelts documentary make me want to catch up on some digital TV. Maybe I'll hit up Ken Burns' documentary on the National Parks next, or maybe finally dive into House of Cards or Daredevil.