In their continuing battle for control, Icon Vs. Icon’s husband and wife team, Delores and Hank, return with their “He Said, She Said” series. This week they focus in on Netflix’s runaway hit, ‘Stranger Things.’ Potential spoilers lie ahead, so proceed with caution. Also, give this dynamic duo a follow and marvel at their online antics on Twitter at @deloresprice80 and @thehenrypricejr.
She Said: “Stranger Things” is an eight-episode Netflix television series harking to the catchphrase “stranger things have happened” and boy do they! Hank and I decided to give it a whirl and quickly fell into a binge spiral, like many others, fueled by craft beer, nostalgia and a yearning for quality entertainment.
In 1980’s rural Indiana, middle schooler outcast Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) vanishes after riding home on his bicycle from an epic hours-long Dungeons & Dragons battle with three close friends. With the help of a mysterious telekinetic child, Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven), the boys set out to save their friend.
The first episode, “The Vanishing of Will Byers” started off running, literally, and was chock full of ‘80s nostalgia. The opening credits is very ‘80s “Tron” with a Stephen King paperback font. It even looks grainy. It made me homesick for my childhood Laura Ashley decorated bedroom, a new “Goosebumps” novel and a Jolt cola.
The series has a “Goonies” feel, especially with Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson as a Chunk character if Lawrence Cohen were also very, very intelligent. Also, you have a group of kids who, instead of looking for pirate treasure to save their neighborhood, are looking for a lost friend complete with flashlights, bicycles and bad guys.
There’s a “Close Encounters” and “Aliens” feel with the flashlights and suits in the lab and that “web” on the wall. I could go on because the nods are seemingly endless. This is the type of show I could watch again and pick up different things. I thought this especially when I noticed a horseshoe turned upside down on the front of the shed where Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) possibly disappeared. Google superstition + horseshoe and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Obviously from my ranting I loved “Stranger Things,” especially since it came out of nowhere and featured no one mainstream yet they were all spectacular.
Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) looks like a young Edward Furlong, hopefully he doesn’t take the same path. Matthew Modine (who plays Dr. Martin Brenner) is always a creeper. I love Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) from the moment he woke up from a binge and put on his police uniform. Hank refers to him as “Josh Brolin’s ugly little brother” or “Chris Pratt’s ugly brother.” Apparently Hank thinks he’s ugly but I think he’s a beautiful broken gorilla.
Where has the ageless Wino Forever (Joyce Byers) been? I spoke this outloud during the first episode and Hank quickly reminded me of the shoplifting. I’m glad she’s making a comeback with a solid performance. Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven) reminds me of a young Natalie Portman in “The Professional” with her look and also acting ability. The emaciated sister Nancy Wheeler (Cara Buono) reminds me of the chick in “Say Anything” but Ione Skye was a knockout. Hank and I discussed Buono’s thin body frame and agreed we liked how the characters in the movie were realistic, especially for 1980’s Indiana.
I don’t want to spoil anything and will try to make Spoiler Happy Hank keep it in his pants. “Stranger Things” is thrilling, heartfelt, creepy and interesting. Towards the end of our binge, when we sadly neared episode 8, “The Upside Down,” I almost felt like I was watching a series from the ‘80s, something from my childhood. I am hoping for a season two next year!
He Said: Toto. Who wasn’t trying to get their groove on to “Africa” in the ‘80s? All you need to know about “Stranger Things” is it features two teenagers getting busy to Toto’s quintessential yacht rock jam. Oh, and there’s that demon from another dimension that snatches poor Barb while Steve and Nancy bless the rains down in Africa. And a lot of nostalgia for those of us who grew up in The Greatest Decade. Has anyone claimed that yet? Nope? OK, cool.
It’s impossible to discuss “Stranger Things” without addressing the nostalgia, so let’s get that out of the way first. Yes, it is in many ways a mixtape of ‘80s pop culture goodness, with references aplenty to multiple Stephen King stories, “Aliens,” “The Thing,” “Goonies,” “Evil Dead,” “E.T.” and “X-Men,” among others. To its credit, the show is strong enough it doesn’t need these references, rather, they’re the icing on a really great cake. There’s fun to be had in spotting the references and influences, but if the show sucked, the references would be pointless. Although there’s a little overkill at times, as if the producers REALLY want to make sure you know how much they liked something.
Fortunately, “Stranger Things” doesn’t suck. In fact, it’s great. It’s like an “X-Files” standalone episode where Mulder and Scully aren’t there to save the day and the small-town folk have to solve the mystery for themselves, so the mystery stretches out for eight episodes.
The casting is outstanding as well. The only actors I recognized were Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine, both of whom do what they do and do it well. I wish Ryder had been given a little bit more to do than play the “is she crazy/isn’t she crazy mom,” but that’s what the story calls for. Eight episodes don’t leave a lot of time for filler. I especially liked David Harbour as the boozy local sheriff, Gaten Matarazzo as the Chunk of the group, and Millie Bobbie Brown as the telekinetic wunderkind who may have derived her powers from LSD. Maybe her father was Hunter S. Thompson.
The show does a good job tying up loose ends in the last episode, even if some are unsatisfying (Steve’s still a pompadour-wearing douchebag, Nancy), while leaving some questions for the inevitable Season 2 (do dead girls eat Eggos in the woods?). While “Stranger Things” will certainly be more enjoyable if you grew up in the ‘80s, you don’t need to have gotten your groove on to Toto to enjoy it.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.