Anyone who has ever entered their local pub looking for a quiet pint, only to be driven out of by a group of inebriated middle-aged divorcees crowded around a microphone wailing the approximate tune of “I Will Survive”, would surely testify that the karaoke machine is one of the most infernal things ever devised by humans. Except for STRANGER THINGS, The Netflix version of karaoke.
Trust me, I don’t want to be The Grinch Who Stole Your 80s Nostalgia Buzz, but STRANGER THINGS has some serious problems that people seem willing to overlook in the rush to hype it up. The praise that people are lavishing on this show, you’d think nothing of this quality has been released for years… or ever.. The truth is Stranger Things too often veers into mediocrity to substitute innovation and with weak facsimile.
STRANGER THINGS completely immerses its audience in a specific style. A style created to appeal to someone like me, and I felt nothing. The pieces are all functional, and they fit in a way that makes sense, but when I step back from STRANGER THINGS the only strange thing about it is that it doesn’t amount to much. It’s a carefully-produced compilation of old ideas, presented without genuine emotions. It revives a lot of familiar ideas but does nothing new, and I can’t help but wonder what the point could be?
it would be naïve to think the show wasn’t designed to capitalise on both nostalgia and generational social media reminiscence. They know what they’re doing. I grew up in the 1980s when films like STAND BY ME and FIRESTARTER were the norm instead of a gimmick. While many folks in my age bracket were cataloguing every reference to 1980s pop culture, I waited and waited for STRANGER THINGS to prove that it had something new in its bag of tricks. And no, allusions to DUNGEONS & DRAGONS – don’t count. They don’t count at all.
Recapturing the feeling of another time period isn’t compatible with doing it well. As I watched STRANGER THINGS, I couldn’t help but think if this series had been on when I was a child, it wouldn’t have even been a memorable entry in my nostalgia memory bank. There is something missing from STRANGER THINGS that most if not all the films and books and television series it’s aping had in spades.
THE MONSTER SQUAD and THE LAST STARFIGHTER were about challenging childhood obsessions and finding real-world applications for our youthful interests. FIRESTARTER is about the struggle to raise a decent child in a society designed to corrupt and exploit them. Stephen King’s IT is about the way our childhood anxieties shape who we become as adults and their lasting impact long afterwards.
But by mixing a considerable range of 1980s story lines into a single narrative, STRANGER THINGS has filtered out anything resembling a cohesive point. Individual story lines have a point, but those points aren’t supported by the whole series which comes across more like a patchwork of ideas instead of a singular artistic vision. I expect more from my entertainment than production values and a monumental library of references. A series with this much talent behind it, taking place on such an enormous canvas, should be more than a hollow pastiche. I think we all deserve something stranger than STRANGER THINGS.
So I’ve avoided being the proverbial old man shaking his fist at a cloud and decided to recreate their successful blueprint. I will produce a program called ‘As if!’ set in the early to-mid 90s. There will be nods to The X-Files, Twin Peaks, Hackers, The Net, Clueless, Scream, Saved By The Bell, My So Called Life, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Independence Day, Silence Of The Lambs, The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction, Boyz N The Hood, Beavis & Butthead, Tomb Raider, Doom, Goosebumps, riot grrrl, grunge, raving, club kids and golden-age hip-hop. The soundtrack will be a hodgepodge of early Aphex Twin by way of MC Hammer, and the cast will consist of an uptight Alicia Silverstone, a deadbeat-but-loveable John Leguizamo and a creepy Luke Perry. Something about a shadowy government conspiracy, alien abduction, skateboarding, genetic engineering, hacking, virtual reality, club drugs and an all-powerful AI operating through Windows 3. Janeane Garofalo could play the NPR-obsessed mom. All set in rainy slacker capital Seattle!
I’m off to make a GO FUND ME page…