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Review: Stranger Things, Season 1

stranger-things-posterWhen the first ad for Stranger Things showed up on Netflix, I skimmed the blurb and thought it sounded like something I wanted to watch, but I only had one more season of The Walking Dead on Netflix to not-quite-hate-watch, so I decided to finish that up first.  While I was wondering why the fuck anyone would keep following Rick Grimes, a lot of people watched Stranger Things and I kept seeing posts in my various feeds telling me how great it was. A lot of them talked about how perfectly it captured the Goonies/E.T./Stand By Me vibe of the 80s and how the Duffer Brothers had managed to do what JJ Abrams tried to do with Super 8. This all sounded great.

The internet was mostly right. Stranger Things perfectly captures that 80s kids adventure movie vibe. Everything feels right. There’s nostalgia and references everywhere, but it rarely feels gratuitous. The story and individual scenes manage to remind you of tons of 80s movies (with lots of horror movie references near the end), without just re-creating scenes from movies we’ve already seen. The premise could have easily turned the whole thing into a derivative mess, but it doesn’t. If the show were set in the modern day with everything updated and all the nostalgia stripped away, it would still work as a story. It’s even got Winona Ryder, which is always going to win points with my generation.

But…

The title font isn’t the only thing the show has in common with Stephen King novels from the 80s. Much like a lot of King’s work it really needs some editing. There is a plotline or two that could be cut out entirely, but the main problem is that so many scenes drag on long after they’ve told us what we need to know. Just as an example, there’s a scene at the end of one episode where Jonathan and Nancy are out in the woods and Nancy goes through the rabbit hole. The episode ends with Jonathan and Nancy calling out to each other. The next episode opens with Jonathan and Nancy standing in the woods/upside-down woods calling out to each other. This goes on for 2 full minutes before anything happens. Those 2 minutes don’t make things any more suspenseful or help the story in any way. They just take up screen time.

At least you can justify that kind of scene as maybe being a failed attempt at tension-building, but a there’s a lot of time spent on dialog that tells us nothing new about the story or characters, scenes that show us everything that happens in real time instead of just giving us the part we need to see, and scenes that just go on longer than they need to in general. Two minutes doesn’t sound like a huge waste of screen time, but it feels longer than it sounds and when almost every scene is a minute or two minutes or even 30 seconds longer than it needs to be to get the point across, it kills the momentum of the story. You end up spending half the episode thinking “can we move this along, please?”

Stranger Things does almost everything right, but I spent a lot of time either bored or annoyed while watching it because it felt like they were wasting my time. As a two-hour movie or maybe even a 4-hour series, it would have been great. At 6 hours, the story rambles or drags way too often. Still there’s still enough good stuff there to make it worth sitting through the completely unnecessary parts.

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