Netflix’s Stranger Things isn’t just a good show, it’s a nostalgic masterpiece, and it’s just the latest in a line of hits that have placed Netflix squarely in the zeitgeist. When Netflix premiered the first two episodes of House of Cards in February, 2013, they were announcing themselves. They had a plan to make their own prestige content, and they needed to make a big splash.While Hulu, Amazon, and the now-defunct Yahoo Screen spread their net wide, Netflix invested hugely in Cards, hiring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and David Fincher. They doubled down on their binge-watching strategy and trusted that subscriber growth and retention would cover the costs of their expensive content.
And who’s got it better than Netflix right now? In the last eight months, they turned everyone’s Winter Break into angry, petition filled blurs (Making a Murderer), they made/continued two groundbreaking comedies that networks can’t seem to produce (Master of None and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), and they just premiered their best overall show yet (Stranger Things; your cries of “DAREDEVIL. WAIT A SECOND HAS THIS GUY EVEN SEEN DAREDEVIL?” are duly noted). Cards and Orange is the New Black are still going strong, they’re increasing their hold on the Marvel television empire, and they proved they can make popular, broad comedies like Fuller House.
Stranger Things is the type of risk they can take after the big, splashy shows have made their mark. Winona Ryder looking for her son may have gotten you in the door, but this is a true ensemble drama, and most of the ensemble is made up of relatively unknown actors. Millie Bobby Brown, an unknown actress two weeks ago, is now number one on IMDB’s STARmeter. She steals the show as Eleven, an escaped science experiment that possesses telekinetic powers. As the central mystery of the show progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that she is the key to everything.
The show is tightly paced and its 8-episode run could easily be a fully formed mini-series. The show ticks every box – it has mystery, conspiracy, sci-fi, horror, some genuinely funny moments, and even a little romance. It wraps it all up into a pitch-perfect eight episode movie that doesn’t waste a single scene. Every character (except Barb) gets catharsis in the immensely satisfying final scenes, even while they manage to give us a taste of season two.
Part of the brilliance of the show is the way they split the plot into three convergent but very different storylines. Mike’s story is all about finding friendship and unity in the midst of tough times. Nancy’s story is about finding her confidence and destroying a monster. Joyce is in the middle of a government conspiracy movie. In other words, you have a Goonies-style romp in a teenage monster movie in a conspiracy thriller. If the show feels like something young Steven Spielberg and young Stephen King would come up with if they had put their heads together, it’s a fair assessment. The Duffer brothers (the show’s creators) grew up inspired by King and Spielberg and enthralled by the setting of the 1980s, but their show stands distinctly on its own. Stranger Things is funnier and less saccharine than most of Spielberg’s catalog, and it’s more tightly plotted than most of King’s.
Season two is a certainty, and the Duffer brothers have said that it will be a direct continuation of season one, as opposed to a True Detective-style anthology series. There’s inherent risk with trying to follow up a story so complete and so well-received, and fans are right to approach with trepidation. There’s always a chance we’ll pretend season two doesn’t exist, True Detective-style. But if anyone has earned our trust, it’s the guys that just made one of the strongest first seasons in modern TV history. Maybe I’m hyperbolizing a bit, but it’s a fun, fast paced eight hours and it’s well-deserving of your attention.