Stranger Things—Season 1

stranger things season 1 poster netflix review
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Fun '80s throwback fantasy horror

Over the top and unbalanced at points

stranger things season 1 title card episode guide

There are Stranger Things…

When Will Byer (Noah Schnapp) disappears on the way home from playing with his friends Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Mike (Finn Wolfhard), the town of Hawkins, Indiana finds itself involved in a mystery.  Where is Will?  As his friends search with the help of a strange girl named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), his mother (Winona Ryder) and brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) begin experience strange events in their search along with Chief Hopper (David Harbour)…something has been unleashed from Sadler Lab and Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) will do anything to stop it.

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This is going to be pretty disappointing when it is revealed this was all to test “New Coke”

Stranger Thing—Season 1 is a sci-fi, horror drama released on Netflix on July 15, 2016.  The eight episode season received buzz from its ’80s Spielbergian storytelling.  The series was nominated for Golden Globes for Best Television Series-Drama, Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series-Drama (Ryder) and won Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Main Title Design, Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music, Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series, Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series (“The Vanishing of Will Byers”), and Outstanding Editing for a Series (“The Upside Down”) with nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Harbour), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Brown), Outstanding Directing fora  Drama Series (“The Vanishing of Will Byers”), Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series (“The Vanishing of Will Byers”), Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Shannon Purser), Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (“The Upside Down”), Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Period Program (“The Vanishing of Will Byers”), Outstanding Single-Camera Editing for a Drama Series (“The Bathtub”), Outstanding Music Supervision (“The Weirdo on Maple Street”), Outstanding Hairstyling for a Single-Camera Series (“The Weirdo on Maple Street”), Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (“The Upside Down), Outstanding Makeup fora  Single-Camera Series (Non-Prosthetic) (“The Monster”) and Outstanding Drama Series

Like many, the trailer for Stranger Things excited me.  There were a number of homages to films like Poltergeist, Goonies, and even E.T.:  The Extra-Terrestrial…but I was burned before by movies like Super 8 which took a similar approach.  For every ’80s Spielberg movie, there is an M. Night Shyamalan or J.J. Abrams movie that was a failed attempt at the same thing.  Stranger Things does a pretty good job recapturing the feel but also is over-the-top at points.

The series is all about nostalgia and the nostalgia sometimes overwhelms the story.  The series sometimes feels unbalanced and even awkward, but the series is short and that helps keep the fun going…I don’t know that a twelve (or definitely twenty-four) episode season would have worked.  Instead you just get to enjoy a fun adventure that will remind you of being a kid (if you grew up in the ’80s).

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Someday I’ll get over my shoplifting…

There is also a more modern aspect to the series that wasn’t in ’80s movies.  There is some swearing and social issues that weren’t generally discussed in the movies that Stranger Things is emulating.  The modernization includes a bit more violence and gay innuendoes by the bullies about Will and the main characters (who would have simply been geeks and nerds in an ’80s film).  It probably is necessary due to changes in times.

The cast is also a good ’80s cast.  The kids are Goonies-esque but still can get to the darkness that is necessary.  Winona Ryder is still tough to accept as the “mother” character in movies having grown up with her but she does work and it is good to see her back.  The characters are all rather stock characters for the genre and if there are future seasons, the series will fight to make them rounded and real.

stranger things season 1 episode 8 the upside down monster

I’m blooming all over you!

Visually, the series is pretty dark by nature and this sometimes hurts the overall product.  The Indiana setting is supposed to give it a hometown feel, but living in Indiana, the movie doesn’t look like Indiana (they changed it from New York).  A lot of ’80s movies that the series tries to capture had light imagery combined with darkness and the light overwhelming won the tone…here, the dark wins.  There are some direct homages to other movies like E.T. and even the referenced Poltergeist (that is part of the ’80s connection is that the characters live in a real world with Star Wars, Atari, and Dungeons & Dragons).  It does help set the mood.

stranger things season 1 episode 6 the monster dustin gaten matarazzo bully

I’m not holding a knife to your throat…you can enjoy the show

Stranger Things is a fun series that has room to grow and needs to grow.  The mysteries of the series are relatively explored in this season, but there is more area that can be expanded and directions for the characters that necessitate another season.  I like the show though it does have its own weaknesses and is in danger of taking itself too seriously at points while being too goofy at other times…it needs to find its own voice and be more than just an homage.  Despite all this, I look forward to the future of Stranger Things and where the path might take it.

Stranger Things—Season 1 Complete Episode Guide:

stranger things season 1 episode 1 the vanishing of will byers noah schnapp

“The Vanishing of Will Byers”

1.1       The Vanishing of Will Byers Release Date:  07/15/16

After a game of Dungeons & Dragons, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears on his way home in Hawkins, Indiana.  As the police, his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder), and his brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) search, Will’s friends Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin), and Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) decide they have to find their friend.  A restaurant owner named Benny Hammond (Chris Sullivan) finds a strange girl (Millie Bobby Brown) who doesn’t seem to know her own name.  A laboratory finds their experiment has escaped….and is dangerous.

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“The Weirdo on Maple Street”

1.2       The Weirdo on Maple Street Release Date:  07/15/16

Mike, Dustin, and Lucas have discovered the girl or 011 (nicknamed Elle), but learn that she could be key to finding Will.  As the search for Will increases, Jonathan goes to see his father (Ross Partridge) about the possibility of his involvement in the disappearance while his mother is haunted calls that may or may not be Will.  The discovery of Benny’s body leads to more questions for Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) as the lab’s search for their missing experiment increases.  A house party attended by Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalie Dyer) and her friend Barbara (Shannon Purser) leads to a sexual encounter and another disappearance.

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“Holly, Jolly”

1.3       Holly, Jolly Release Date:  07/15/16

Barbara has disappeared and only Nancy knows it.  Joyce begins to realize she can communicate with Will through lights…but communicating with Will could be dangerous for Joyce.  Eleven tries to adjust to her new reality and remembers her past.  Nancy learns about Jonathan’s feelings for her, but Jonathan finds himself attacked by her boyfriend Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) and his friends.  The search for Will could meet a deadly end for Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Eleven could be at a deadly end.

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“The Body”

1.4       The Body Release Date:  07/15/16

Will’s body has been found, but Joyce refuses to accept that it is him.  Nancy’s decision to go to the police about Barbara creates a rift with Steve, but an opening with Jonathan.  Chief Hopper finds he’s being lied to about events occurring and that a bigger conspiracy involving the Sadler Company could exist.  Mike finds that there is evidence that Will could still be alive and a trip to the school to use the shortwave radio could provide needed answers.

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“The Flea and the Acrobat”

1.5       The Flea and the Acrobat Release Date:  07/15/16

Will’s funeral is approaching, but most of the attendees don’t believe he is really dead.  Chief Hopper’s experience at Sadler has left him unhinged.  As Jonathan deals with the return of his father who is trying to reconnect with his mother, he also finds an unlikely ally in Nancy who now believes there is something inhuman lurking in the woods.  A search for Will using Eleven as the key leads to a rift between Lucas and Mike.  A trip into the woods for Nancy and Jonathan leads to a trip into another dimension.

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“The Monster”

1.6       The Monster Release Date:  07/15/16

Nancy is able to escape the other dimension and the monster, but spending time with Jonathan has consequences when Steve finds out Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) and the men from the Sadler Company are getting closer to finding Eleven…making everyone involved with her a danger.  Lucas sets out on his own to find Eleven, and Mike and Dustin search for Eleven…but find another threat.

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“The Bathtub”

1.7       The Bathtub Release Date:  07/15/16

Time is running out as Dr. Brenner and his men close in on Eleven.  Steve tries to atone for his behavior as Jonathan and Nancy team with Joyce and Chief Hopper to find Will.  A last ditch effort to find Barbara and Will means a dangerous experiment for Eleven.

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“The Upside Down”

1.8       The Upside Down Release Date:  07/15/16

Chief Hopper and Joyce go to Sadler with a last ditch effort to save Will, but a deal by Chief Hopper could doom Eleven.  Jonathan and Nancy set out to capture the monster and find unlikely help from Steve.  Eleven unleashes her full potential as the final battle to rescue Will begins.

Related Links:

Stranger Things—Season 2 Review and Complete Episode Guide

Stranger Things—Season 3 Review and Complete Episode Guide

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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