If you’re one of the handful of people who have yet to make the leap to watch Netflix’s smash hit Stranger Things, then you’ve been missing out on one of the most original new programs to hit TV sets in recent years. Newcomers might think the show is a little gimmick-y (ugh, the eighties . . . ), or that it’s walking well-trod territory (boy goes missing, cops called in, where have I seen this before . . . ? Oh right, everywhere). If you made that assumption, you’d be dead wrong. The unassuming little series packs in the terror of a horror film, the excitement of an adventure movie, a pile of memorable characters, and wraps them all in a truly relatable story covered in a thick 1980s sheen. If you have yet to spend an evening in the town of Hawkins, Indiana, you’ve missed out on perhaps the best new show of 2016.
1. You’ll Like it Even if You Didn’t Like ‘Twin Peaks’
A lot of the reviews and fan raves compare Stranger Things to David Lynch’s cult classic, Twin Peaks. It’s true that both take place in small towns where things aren’t exactly what they seem, and both shows put a premium on small town charm (and lots of coffee), but that’s about where the similarities end. Stranger Things is much more in the vein of Spielberg classics like E.T. Actually, thinking of it like a scary E.T. is a pretty good way to go.
2. Root For the Smart Kids For Once
Pretty much every movie or TV show ever made focuses on some pretty people having pretty people problems. If someone with an actual IQ happens by, they’re usually shuffled to the background, portrayed as a goof, or used to spill info. You can try and refute me, but you know it’s true. Stranger Things isn’t that. The series follows the nerds, the oddballs, and the sad people living at the fringes. Here brainpower gets the win.
3. Spend Some Time with the Most Charming Lisper in TV History
One of the show’s standout characters (and there are a bunch), is lisping Dustin Henderson, played by Gaten Matarazzo. The plucky kid is inimitably cheerful, infallibly true to his buddies, and always ready with a good one-liner. Matarazzo has actually turned his signature speaking style, which comes from a condition called cleidocranial dysplasia — he’s missing his two front teeth long after they should have grown in — into a lucrative awareness campaign.
4. Celebrate Winona’s Journey Into a New Millennium
Winona Ryder, who plays deteriorating mom Joyce, is a scene-stealer as a woman who is utterly convinced that her son is alive. Of course Ryder might not even have known that the show was an option available to her if she hadn’t been approached. According to showrunners, Ryder didn’t know what “streaming” was.
5. Eleven is Way Cooler Than Any X-Man
Millie Bobby Brown is called to action as a psychokinetic runaway who finds herself hanging out with a bunch of D&D-playing nerds. As the mostly silent Eleven, or El, Brown manages to convey an immense vulnerability that’s coupled with some eye-popping abilities. When Eleven gets going, there’s little on this side of existence that’s capable of stopping her. Seriously, this is one little girl you do not want to piss off.
6. It Makes “Dungeons & Dragons” Seem Cool
The first season of Stranger Things begins and (sort of) ends with a group of buddies sitting around playing Dungeons and Dragons. Throughout the boys’ adventure and their quest to fight the monster who’s stalking the town of Hawkins, Indiana, all of their working knowledge is funneled through the guise of fantasy role-playing. The fantasy element not only helps the characters cope with the horrors they face, it exalts the events to a mythical level that adds a whole new layer of enjoyment to the proceedings.
7. The Monster (And the Upside-Down) Will Haunt Your Brain
There are many planes of existence beyond the one that you and I know. Some are likely magical and peaceful. The Upside-Down is not one of those places. Home to a creature with no face and an unquenchable bloodlust, the Upside-Down is a dark reflection of our own dimension, a lifeless place that’s presumably been sucked dry by the monster still haunting its borders. Good luck sleeping after a trip to the other side.
8. You’ll Come to Respect a Reformed Douchebag
Oh, Steve. You really want to hate the guy, because he’s playing one of those entitled jerks with perfect (eighties) hair and a seemingly perfect life. He’s bratty and moody and so obnoxious you just want to punch him in his stupid face. Then, something happens. Over the course of one season Steve transforms from the guy you love to hate, to the guy you’re rooting for, as he swings a baseball bat at an unholy terror. Seriously, it’s riveting TV.
9. Find Out Why Everyone is So Pissed Off About Barb
Even if you haven’t watched Stranger Things, you’ve probably heard about Barb, a tall, gawky side-character with lots of lovable attitude. She’s pithy and cool and she gets . . . well, something awful happens to her. That’s not what has annoyed the entirety of the internet though. It’s what happens in the wake of Barb’s disappearance that set everyone on fire.
10. It’s Fun to Count the Pop Culture References
Woven into the core of “Stranger Things” is an abiding love of the pop culture from the 1980s. Though it’s handled tactfully, nods to the masters of the eighties abound. From X-Men comics to references to “Risky Business”, the show is a cornucopia of eighties-love. Just see if you can catch them all.
11. It’s a Real Human Story
Beyond the thrills and the homages, the main reason Stranger Things works is that it grabs you by the heart and doesn’t let go. The stakes are high and the people caught in the crosshairs of the brewing adventure are just so likable, you can’t bear to see harm come to them. The scripts are smart, the story moves quickly, and the whole thing will stay with you long after the credits roll.
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