tek's rating: ¾

Stranger Things, on Netflix
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Caution: spoilers!

This began in 2016, and quickly became a major hit. I'd like to call it a "cult" hit, because it certainly has that feel, but its popularity even leaked into the mainstream. So of course I was anxious to see it; in fact, it was one of the things I most wanted to see on Netflix. But of course, I didn't have access to Netflix, so I didn't know when I'd get to see it. Well, I finally watched the first season on DVD in early 2019. (It's a box set of 2 DVDs and 2 Blu-rays, released exclusively at Target, though you can surely find it elsewhere online. I myself found it at a surplus store called Marden's.) The show is set in the early 1980s, so I find it extra cool that the DVDs are in a package designed to look like a VHS tape, complete with slipcover. The show itself does a great job of evoking the feel of the early 80s, including the pop culture references, which are not only enjoyed by the characters, but also obviously influenced the creators of "Stranger Things." I have to say... I ended up not quite loving the show, because I didn't think it quite lived up to all the hype, but that doesn't mean I was disappointed by it, at all. I definitely thought it was really good. And now I really look forward to seeing the second season.

Season One
The show is set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. It begins one night in November 1983, when four 12-year-old friends are playing Dungeons & Dragons. They include Mike Wheeler, Lucas Sinclair, Dustin Henderson, and Will Byers. After the game, three of the friends ride their bikes home from Mike's house... and Will ends up vanishing. The rest of the season is largely concerned with different people's efforts to find him. But it all ties in to some larger issues. There's a mysterious Department of Energy facility called the Hawkins National Laboratory, headed by Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine). One of the things he's been doing there is raising a girl named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown, a breakout star of the show). She has various psychic powers like telekinesis and whatnot. Dr. Brenner has been using her in experiments to make contact with, like, a parallel world of some kind. (Eleven calls it "the Upside Down.") She escapes from the lab the same night Will goes missing, and later, when Mike, Lucas, and Dustin are out looking for him, they meet her. Mike takes her back to his place, where he hides her in the basement (which he and his friends use as a sort of clubhouse for playing D&D). Lucas and Dustin don't trust her at first, but Mike wants to protect her. (And he calls her "El," for short.) She eventually becomes instrumental in their efforts to find out what happened to Will.

Meanwhile, Will's mother, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) becomes increasingly desperate and frantic to find her missing son. And she soon realizes there are some very strange things involved in his disappearance. Like mysterious phone calls from Will, which result in the phone frying. And the walls distorting themselves. And lights flickering in meaningful ways. So, she knows Will is alive, even if no one else believes her... especially after his dead body is found, at the end of episode 3. Anyway... Joyce is divorced, and was raising Will and her older son, Jonathan, by herself. Jonathan is just as upset about Will's disappearance, but at first he doesn't really believe anything supernatural is going on. Besides, he's got problems of his own. He's kind of an outsider, not really social, and is mostly interested in photography. But I'll get back to that. I also need to mention Mike's older sister, Nancy Wheeler. She's mostly interested in academics, so she's not exactly one of the popular kids at school. However, she's recently started dating a popular boy named Steven Harrington. One night, she and her friend Barb go to a party with Steve and his friends Tommy and Carol, and Nancy ends up having sex with Steve. At the same time, Jonathan was out in the woods with his camera, looking for Will, when he comes upon the secluded house where the party had been. He takes some pictures of Nancy, through a distant window, as well as of Barb, who was sitting alone by the pool. And then, suddenly, Barb disappears.

Steve and his friends later find the pictures Jonathan had taken, and think he's just some creepy stalker or peeping tom or whatever. And Steve smashes his camera. Well... I gotta say, they weren't really wrong that he shouldn't have been taking those pictures, and despite early attempts by the show to make us think of Steve as a jerk, I can't say I blamed him for disliking Jonathan. But Nancy didn't seem creeped out by Jonathan at all. And when she realizes Barb has gone missing just like Jonathan's brother did, the two of them begin to get closer, as they try to seek the truth of what happened. And they eventually discover a monster that had come into our world from the Upside Down, and later make plans to lure it out of hiding and kill it. Meanwhile, the town police chief, Jim Hopper, has also been investigating Will's disappearance. He eventually discovers that the body that was found is not a real body at all. And he becomes suspicious of Hawkins Lab.

Well... I think those are all the major plot points for the season. It's all very strange and creepy and mysterious and intriguing. And eventually all the plot threads and characters start to converge, when they learn the secrets one another had been keeping about all they'd each learned. And finally, the Hawkins Lab people try to get Eleven back, while her new friends try to protect her. And all while still trying to find Will and stop the monster. I'll hold off on any major revelations about how everything ends, for now. Though I suppose I'll have to reveal those things whenever I get around to watching and reviewing season two. Meanwhile, I'll just say I think this is a pretty cool show with some interesting characters. And I think it's entirely possible that I'll raise my rating of it after I've seen more of it.


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