Disclosure: I loved Stranger Things. I binge-watched it last weekend. So imagine my surprise when I read a badly written, rambling, negative opinion piece about it.
Don’t read that unless you have already watched the show. It’s rife with spoilers. I won’t include too many myself, and will not refute the whole verbose mess of it, but will rather only address two or three of its complaints. I just want to point out that it (the negative review) is not as thorough or even as good as it might appear.
It starts with that good old narrative device… “I really do like horror but…” Rather than just say it in a few simple words, even that claim is drawn out, as the writer tries too hard to prove both his eighties and horror “credentials”. It’s a narrative device, not dissimilar to one used by peddlers of pseudoscience and religion, with their “I used to be a skeptic but…” or “I used to be an atheist but…”. And as with them, if you recognize the technique, you know you’re being set up, so the device no longer works.
The entire piece is written almost like one would expect the writing of a hard drug user to be… It complains about the superficial, and never goes any deeper, as if the writer was too coked up to see beyond the surface. There isn’t much going on beyond the surface in Stranger Things, but there are a few subthemes, which might easily be missed by someone who looks only at the superficial, playing a game of spot the cliché… Note that all of the clichés the writer complains about are often called tropes, and are present everywhere, in most movies and TV shows. Why call them out here? I’ve lost count of the number of movies and books that featured bullies… Heck, when I was a kid (in the eighties), I’d fantasize about the day some moron would try to bully me, just so I could get the chance to dish out some rightful vengeance. And likewise I’ve lost count of the number of movies that featured a teen girl who gets manipulated into sex by the popular boyfriend who only wants to get into her panties. At least in this case, that bad guy turned out not to be so bad after all, and redeemed himself.
Somewhere buried in the piece is a complaint about the chief of police… I don’t dare try to find it now in that mess, so I’ll have to go by memory. He complains that the man, who is an incompetent alcoholic, turns into a monster hunter by the end. Way to miss the point… In the scene that introduces the chief, he looks like an alcoholic. But as the show progresses, we learn that he is a flawed figure, who lost his daughter to a terminal illness. He’s a good man and a good investigator, who came to this small town from the city. Alcohol is the coping mechanism for his loss, and one of the (obvious) subthemes that the writer missed is the character’s redemption. The finding and saving of Will, another child, represents the chief’s redemption, and it both removed the need for his coping mechanism, as well as brought closure to him and helped him finally deal with the loss of his daughter.
(Redemption itself is a recurring subtheme in the show, and doesn’t only apply to the chief. I won’t mention how it applies to other characters because spoilers…)
Then there’s complaints about the missing girl, Barb… The character Nancy, does not report her missing when she should! This sets up her guilt and her drive to find the monster and try to save her friend. By the time the girl is reported missing, the shady government guys have covered it up and made it look like she ran away. In the last episode, they reveal to Will’s parents that six people have been taken that week. Six! Why does the writer not blather on about the other four that we don’t know of? Maybe he missed that reveal? Maybe it was the inopportune moment to lean over and do another line of coke?
There are other complaints… Loads of them. But all suffer the same issue. The writer seems so caught up in the superficial, he can’t see anything beyond it. The subthemes are not that complicated, and maybe that’s one of the reasons why the show is so popular. You don’t have to be a genius to get them. But if you totally miss them all, well then… What the fuck?
There is one major plot hole that the writer totally misses. The monster, which is limited to a small area, travels between this and a shadow world (the Upside Down in the show), being attracted to blood. But what about menstrual blood? Every woman or teenage girl in that area should have been taken. Yah, they fucked that one up… But Mr Pastiche (not his name, but one of his most annoyingly repeated complaints) totally missed it.
Another valid criticism of the show would be that it was predictable (just like everything else). The writer of that poor review complained about the pace, but I had no problem with that. Where I did have a problem was, I knew which characters were “safe”… Spoiler alert… (Skip the rest of this paragraph to avoid spoilers.) Will was safe. The whole point of the show was about rescuing him. So despite some hints in some episodes that he might not be, it was obvious he’d always be fine. Nancy was safe. Despite accidentally entering the “Upside Down” at one point, I knew she would be safe because too much plot had been devoted to the narrative of her relationship with her boyfriend, and that plot had to be tied up by her either getting together with Jonathan or by Steve redeeming himself. (Thus Jonathan was also safe, especially because he was Will’s brother, and Steve might not be.) I knew that another character would sacrifice herself at the end because that was how she could redeem herself… And so on. I knew much of what was going to happen because it could only go that way. But that didn’t prevent me from enjoying the show. As with most shows and movies that I’ve watched, I knew what would happen, and that’s OK because I was entertained and captivated, and watched to find out how it would happen, how this story would be played out. The predictability didn’t prevent me from binge-watching it. In fact, the only reason I watched four episodes each day over two days was that my eight-year-old son watched with me, and he had to go to sleep on Saturday night. Otherwise I’d have watched all eight episodes in one sitting.
Anyway, I won’t write a full review, or full rebuttal of that badly written opinion piece… If you haven’t watched Stranger Things yet, I suggest you do so. It is worth the time. Yes, there is a lot of hype all over the internet about the show, but don’t go into it looking for faults. All movies and all series have plenty of faults. Much of the hype is about the overwhelming positive reaction to the show. Consider that a positive reaction might be because the series is good.