I’m officially starting The Duffer Brothers Fan Club with this post. There will be gushing and lots of it.
How can I describe Stranger Things to you without giving anything away? I can’t, therefore, this will be entirely about everything but the plot of the show. That’s for you to discover on your own. Here’s a show that I only heard about probably a couple of weeks before it dropped like an atom bomb on Netflix last Friday. I relegated it to “huh, sounds neat” in my brain and thought nothing of it until I fired up Twitter over the weekend. There was overt praise. There was cryptic praise. There was “Where the hell did this come from?” These are all things that pique my interest in stuff, so I carved out time to take it in.
There was no disappointment. As the credits rolled on episode 1, I was sold. I had a feeling that I can only imagine was the feeling JJ Abrams wanted so badly to stimulate with Super 8. There is no doubting where the Duffer Brothers take their inspiration from, but instead of bald pandering and overt “HEY, CAN’T YOU TELL WE ARE THE BIGGEST FAN OF SPIELBERG EVVVVVVVEEEEER?” we have subtlety and charm. This show feels like it belongs to the 80’s. Not that it is simply cribbing the aesthetic of the 80’s. There is nostalgia at play in every scene. From a Jaws poster here to a John Carpenter’s The Thing poster there, to the wonderful use of 80’s music and the synthesized score…it could all have come across very heavy handed. But, it didn’t. That’s the power of people who “get it.”
Let’s not mince words here: The Duffer Brothers get it. I had never heard of them before this. They are still an enigma, because even googling them only brings up little more than articles about this show. But, I believe in them. From the open shot to the closing shot of 8 episodes, there is little to no doubt how in command of their craft they are. It’s so natural, it truly feels like the second coming of Spielberg. Give these guys a Star Wars sequel or…and I don’t say this lightly….the reboot of Indiana Jones. They will NAIL it.
The mastery of tone and intent is what is lacking from so many films and shows these days. It’s all about brand maintenance on TV at this point. Why else do we have 15 Law & Order/ CSI spinoffs and reboots(all those Chicago shows are just that:reboots)? Comedies are even worse. Cable took risks early, but are now plagued by the same problem. Do we really NEED a side-quel to The Walking Dead or a prequel to Breaking Bad? We do not. I am so thankful for Netflix greenlighting this and just taking risks with story-telling in general. The best TV shows are no longer on TV. Another part of what makes Stranger Things work is the limitations of the production. Very rarely do you get “the best” anything when there are no limitations. Think about all the would-be blockbusters with $200 million dollar budgets that never lived up to the hype. Hell, think about every Transformers movie up to this point. Successful, sure, but each one is a completely empty experience. Even when someone has the money, sometimes the limitations are technical. The big reason Jurassic Park and Jaws were so successful was a combo of being made by a brilliant filmmaker and the limits of the technology to present the monsters. Jurassic Park doesn’t become what it is without the animatronic and GGI coming together seamlessly to form the T-Rex. Jaws doesn’t become the standard template for blockbuster filmmaking without Bruce being such a bitch to work with and not really working right until so deep in production. And, even so, it all comes back to tone and intent. The Duffer Brothers use of tone and intent, their expert direction of absolutely WONDERFUL performances from their actors along with the production limitations of a TV show produced such rich emotional alchemy to give us this: The best TV show of the year. Get on it, people. This show is special.