Friday, August 19, 2016

Inexplicable TV Review: Stranger Things, through 2.1 episodes

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Warning: Spoilers follow for the first two episodes, and a tiny bit of the third, of Stranger Things. Also, this has been edited from an earlier version where I misidentified the chief. DOH.

Like everyone else on the Internet now, I’ve started watching Stranger Things. Here are some random thoughts about the show, followed by some random guesses on where it might be headed, similar to what I used to do for Lost. (And man, it feels like that show aired a million years ago, doesn’t it? It was the first show I significantly live blogged and followed on the Internet, to the tune of 31 entries, but now pretty much every significant show has that sort of devoted following.)

- To explain my numbering in the title of this entry, Karen and I watched the first two episodes, and then we made a rookie Netflix mistake. We absolutely did not get to the remote quickly enough to pause it, so, the third episode started playing. We got through the big “swimming pool reveal” of the pre-title screen moment, and then paused it.

- The supporting cast MVP through two episodes is definitely Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo). Just his look alone is incredible, as I definitely want copies of his EXPLORER sweatshirt and his regular ball cap. But, beyond the impressive style, he also gets some snazzy and funny lines, my favorite being when he’s speculating about Elle and his friend. “Do you think they slept naked???”

- I always dislike when my namesakes in shows are sleazy, so I’m prepared to be disappointed with Steve. He just seems oily and sleazy, but maybe he’ll end up surprising me, and not being horrible.

- Winona gets top-billing for the show, along with Matthew Modine as a creepy scientist, but I’m assuming that’s mostly because of the rest of the cast (so far) is unknowns. The real stars are the three buddies and Elle, especially the former group. My friends Cosmo, Tom and Nikki described this show to me as the mixture of a 1980s coming of age movie with The X-Files, and while I didn’t watch much X-Files growing up, it definitely has that feel. Stand By Me is the other obvious parallel for this show, as far as the interaction between the kids goes.

- But focusing on Winona for a second, it feels bizarre that she’s now playing the mom on a show like this. She’s 44, according to Wikipedia, but still looks younger in non-Stranger Things appearances. It helps her role on the show, as she seems hard-working, but also overwhelmed.

- David Harbour is also good as the small-town chief who seemingly has Hidden Burdens and Secret Issues bogging him down. They hint at them in the first few episodes, with references to his deceased daughter and the fact that he used to be a “big city” police officer. (I’m guessing they mean Indianapolis.) So far, his character has been a bit cliché, but because the rest of the show has been so good, I’m assuming they give him some more depth as time goes on. (I also completely thought the chief was played by Modine, doh. Harbour is a character actor who was pretty solid in some Law and Order episodes, and I should have recognized him.)

- I’m far more interested in the spooky, scientific and supernatural goings on then the High School Melodrama between Steve, Nancy, Jonathan and others. The symbolism and camera cuts between Nancy losing her virginity, and Barb in the pool, were definitely the most heavy-handed and least interesting aspects of the first 2.1 episodes to me.

And finally! The reckless speculation and guessing part of the post, about where I think the show is going.

- Since Elle / Eleven seemed to escape from a Department of Energy compound, I’m assuming that the only-glimpsed Monster has the power to materialize out of energy sources (lights). This seems to be the case so far, as he snatches Will from a shed that has a light, and seemingly appears out of a light in the facility’s elevator and in Jonathan’s room as well.

The Monster seems to kill Barb in the pool, but it’s a Bizarro World pool, with snow falling and no water in it. My hypothesis would be that it can “snatch” people from the Real World, and bring them into Bizarro World. However, something seemingly distracted it when it got Will (maybe Elle?), and that’s why he’s still alive in Bizarro World.

- I’m unsure if Elle is from the Bizarro World, or simply a special project of the weird head scientist she seemingly calls Dada. She obviously has Force-like powers, and the show did a clever job of having the kids be familiar with Star Wars, and thus not immediately freaked out by that concept. I always like when a show acknowledges that other media exists, and thus that a bunch of kids in the 1980s are going to be at least open to the idea of powers, thanks to movies, TV and comic books. The kids will obviously play a role in humanizing her, and in turn, she’ll protect them and probably, ultimately will slay the Monster and rescue Will.

- I think Harbour tracks down the incidents to the Department of Energy, since he’s already found the pipe leading out of their facility. I’m assuming that the escape of the Monster is what allowed Elle to make her escape as well, and that there could be others out there as well, whether we get to them in this eight episode run or if things are revealed in future seasons. She’s #11, after all, which suggests at least 10 others. (And heck, why would they have stopped at 11? A nice, round dozen makes more sense.)

- At some point, we’ll probably get a storyline about Jonathan spying on Nancy and Steve, since he was also the last “witness” to Barb being alive as well. (I’m assuming she’s dead.) I’m not sure if he’ll come forward willingly, or if the police find him because he leaves a camera cap or something else traceable in the wood. If this was a bad procedural show, I would have guessed the latter, because it would have provided a false lead for them to burn some episode time on. However, since I’m already through a quarter of the show’s runtime, I don’t think they’re going to devote much screen time to leads that the viewer knows are obviously false.

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