It’s been more than a week since it debuted, so unless you live under a rock you’ve already heard about Netflix’s Stranger Things. That actually works in my favor, because I don’t have to spend time complaining about how no one is talking about this great show and can instead write about why everyone is talking about it. To be perfectly honest, I’m a little bit surprised that’s the case.
Sci Fi isn’t an easy genre for pleasing a general audience. A quick Google search reveals a barren wasteland of cancelled shows, with even the most popular ones getting no more than a handful of seasons. That’s what makes Stranger Things so damn interesting. Not only is it a well-made Sci Fi show, but it’s a huge hit. The question is, how has it succeeded when so many before it failed?
The clearest answer, unsurprisingly, is because it’s on Netflix. Only HBO rivals Netflix’s production value and reputation, which has enabled it to attract recognizable stars (Winona Ryder, David Harbour). Bingability is also a clear factor, though I think watchability — or the fact that basically everyone has Netflix — is an even bigger key. Cord cutting and higher prices for HBO and Showtime mean not everyone can watch all the top shows. Even grandma has Netflix.
But even taking those factors into consideration, no one is going to watch a show if it’s bad. Ok…most people won’t watch a show if it’s bad. A high budget and names you know only get you so far. So what has pushed Stranger Things into that Next Level of popularity? Kids.
The show revolves around a handful of equally important characters, but the best storyline is the group of four middle-school kids, including one with superpowers, looking for their missing friend. The combination of adolescent innocence and Sci Fi darkness is part of what makes Stranger Things so appealing — it’s also why the popular comparisons to date have been films from Steven Spielberg’s heyday.
Showing a story through the eyes of kids makes even the scariest scenes more palpable, because bad things rarely happen directly to children. The audience knows that as long as a kid is driving the plot, there’s a threshold for how horrific things can get.
But Stranger Things is too smart to completely give in to the more faint hearted audience members, pushing the envelope with kids on screen and taking some truly scary turns with the adult storylines. It’s a terrific way to meet expectations for the more harcore Sci Fi fans while roping in viewers that would otherwise stear clear of the genre.
The third, but certainly not final, thing that makes Stranger Things so good is that it’s set in the 1980’s. Seriously! That era tugs on the nostalgic cords of people who grew up during that decade and of young people now, who are growing up on remakes of movies, clothes and music that came out during that time. I was born in 1990. Seeing Mike play with a Millennium Falcon toy makes me relive my childhood and I grew up with the shitty Star Wars films. I can only imagine what that scene feels like for my dad.
I would be remiss to not mention the music (again, 80s influenced), the directing, casting and cinematography as contributing elements for making Stranger Things next-level good. I tend to be pretty cynical and critical about TV, and I cannot find a single thing I dislike about this show. Even Ryder’s overacting takes me back to my childhood.