The evolution of Television has been quite a spectacle to observe. No one could have predicted that Netflix’s big gamble in producing scripted web series would pay off in the company’s meteoric rise and result in every studio scrambling to make their own series.
While shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men established TV as a great medium for introspective storytelling, with HBO’s Game of Thrones elevating the scope of television by making it a cinematic medium, Stranger Things was our first true taste of what a family-friendly blockbuster series could look like.
In other words, Stranger Things, with its adorable blend of child stars and former Hollywood heavyweights, became what Marvel movies have become for the masses. Sure, one could argue that Game of Thrones, for all intents and purposes, carried more clout during its eight-year run, but it was Stranger Things’ crossover appeal and ability to permeate throughout the cultural zeitgeist that launched a thousand ships, or rather the streaming revolution.
The Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things, along with Netflix, remains the torchbearer of a new era of entertainment.
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The Strange Inception
Back when Season One of the series debuted on Netflix, the show seemingly came out of nowhere, quickly amassing a cult following. The show was a slow burner of sorts for Netflix. While the series did well right out of the bat, it was good old fashioned word of mouth that propelled Stranger Things into becoming one of the biggest series of the year.
To say that the show’s massive success would be a surprise isn’t an overstatement. The show, created by two virtually unknown TV writers, stars mostly newcomers and an actress whose star-life had dimmed.
The showrunners: Duffer Brothers, have openly confessed that the only reason Winona Ryder (who plays the distraught mother of the missing Will Byers in the series) agreed to meet with them was that she didn’t have other projects lined up.
Something similar was the case for David Harbour, who had never gotten a big lead role before. No one could have predicted that this ragtag group of actors featuring Ryder, Harbour and a group of unknown kids, would become the biggest young adult franchise since Harry Potter.
It is no surprise that the show is breaking records for Netflix and is one of the most viewed series on the planet.
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Part of the appeal of the show is arguably the kids. Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo and Noah Schnapp all appeared seemingly out of nowhere and the show’s stellar writers ensured that they were instantly a mixture of adorable and likeable.
Most importantly though, and this perhaps is a contributing factor to the rise of the show, is that the kids acted foremost as kids. Their naiveté and playfulness became a huge draw for adults and kids, and it was only a short while before the show’s kids became the most iconic group of children since Stephen Kings’ Losers Club in ‘It’.
There was also something refreshing in kids and teenagers playing middle and high school kids, with films and TVs almost exclusively having those parts occupied by older actors. But the casting in this show is so necessary because Stranger Things is really all about its three different generations, meaning there is always something for someone.
Will Byers’ disappearance in season one is examined through three completely different lenses, the adults are a bit calmer (with the exception of the neurotic Winona Ryder’s character), the teenagers more indifferent and yet, our dorky child heroes remain ever hopeful that they will find their friend.
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Then there is, of course, the nostalgia that has made Stranger Things the beast that it is. The series wears its 80’s influence proudly, invoking everyone from John Carpenter to Steven Spielberg. The show isn’t shy about having its characters dress like Ghostbusters or has its female lead pine after the Karate Kid, adding some veracity to its setting.
That’s the part that makes Stranger Things stand out, despite the show essentially being a period piece; the characters are wholly relatable. Stranger Things makes us empathize with everyone, from the popular kids to the bullies, and it does so in neat eight-episode seasons that don’t take too long to get the story going.
The mix of otherworldly beings, whilst not only serving as a homage to another eighties classic Aliens, also ensures that our empathy remains with our human characters with the CGI baddies being the main antagonists.
Seeing old shows like Friends or Seinfeld is said to psychologically affect us, soothing our anxiety. And Stranger Things, with its familiar setting and stock characters from that period, has become the kind of light comfort TV many crave.
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Paints a different picture from reality
Like USA’s popular TV shoe Suits, there is inherent buoyancy about Stranger Things. The show never goes full horror, and the world that they live in isn’t the typical representation of its time. Women and people of color are given more agency than they perhaps would have in that time, and whether for good or bad, the series never touches topics like race.
Stranger Things’ ability to invoke the past through a cheery, rose-tinted lens is what makes the show so inviting to people of all ages. In fact, a lot about Stranger Things is reminiscent of the early Avengers movies in the sense that no one is ever really in danger and the entire show is sun-kissed and wholesome.
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What makes it so Different?
There are other factors that instantly differentiate Stranger Things from your standard American TV series. There is a blockbuster quality to the show despite its small-town setting. Netflix’s decision to spare no expense in the making of the sci-fi series shows how movie-like the VFX is.
After the first season efficiently set up the series with its family-friendly blend of sci-fi and horror, the subsequent entries go a little bolder and darker, whilst retaining the signature warmth of the show. At the same time though, the show has also gotten more confident.
Season 3, which is rumored to be the penultimate one of the series, is structured less like a show and more like a really fun film. Threads starting from the first episode all tie up neatly in the final ones, but the journey to get there is more exciting than ever before, and with an end as rewarding as that of season 2, Stranger Things ends on a higher note than ever before.
As big streaming services and networks scramble to find their next Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, by retaining its purity and strengthening all that made it great, vaults into the upper echelon of television.
Usama Masood Ahmad is an entertainment writer and research analyst at Global Village Space. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.