"Stranger Things" Series Talkback (Spoilers)

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Matt Zimmer
Jan 19, 2004
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Stranger Things "Chapter One: The Vanishing Of Will Byers"

This is a very interesting series. It's like a cross between Stephen King and Steven Spielberg.

I like Sheriff Hopper, and I like that he is actually good at his job. That’s refreshing.

I really liked Benny the diner owner too, so I was as upset as Eleven when he was shot. SO unfair. He was SO nice.

This is not only set in the 80's, but the camera angles and film stock used make it feel like it could have been MADE in the 80's. It feels very authentic to the kinds of things that were made back then.

Promising opener. ****.

Stranger Things "Chapter Two: The Weirdo On Maple Street”

I hate Lonnie right off the bat. The precise reason I hate him is because he thinks he’s the best person there is, while he is the very worst. He reminds uncomfortably any many disreputable real-world people who blame their failings on everyone else.

The stuff with Eleven and Michael is interesting, but I found the stuff with Nancy and Steve at the end boring and frankly a little gross. Yeah, I get teenage girls fall for Steve’s specific sexual manipulations all the time, but it doesn’t make it enjoyable to watch onscreen in the slightest. It actually makes me angry, as does Jonathan pervily taking pictures.

I liked most of the episode but the last five or ten minutes did not sit right with me at all. ***.

Stranger Things “Holly, Jolly”

God, the stuff with Nancy sucks. I get that the kids are child actors and they can’t be used as much as adults, but there’s only 8 episodes. That’s not unreasonable, right? I don’t like the teenagers or their creepy stories.

Sheriff Hopper IS somebody I’m starting to like. Simply because he seems really on the ball, and is further along than most people in these types of movies and shows would get. He’s further along than the kids to the right answer, which is a bit refreshing. It’s kind of neat to see the E.T. story from every perspective, including the cops.

I love Joyce’s plan to communicate to Will using the Christmas lights and letters painted on the wall. She is smart.

That ending was pretty powerful and devastating too.

But if they weren’t stuck on those mopey teenagers so much I’d like the series much more. ***1/2.

Stranger Things “Chapter Four: The Body”

What strikes me most about this mystery using aliens and alternate universes, is that the heroes all know the major solutions to the mystery. The solutions are just divided amongst different people. If the Sheriff, the kids, Nancy and Jonathan, and Joyce all got together and compared notes, the season would probably already be over. And I like mysteries like that. Where the audience kind of already sees and knows the solution, and the fun is watching the characters themselves piece it together. I don’t know everything. I don’t get Eleven’s connection to the aliens or alternate universe, or even if there is one. But I like mysteries where the writers reveal more to me than the characters solving the mystery. The fun is seeing everything building until it collides, and seeing how the puzzle pieces all fit together.

For the record, Nancy is FAR too forgiving of Jonathan snapping the candid. But it’s an 80’s show, and the nice girl is ALWAYS supernaturally forgiving of the creepy “nice guy” loser. And yeah, the thing that bugs me about this show is that it doesn’t just feed into the best of 80’s movies and TV. It also feeds into the worst. I wouldn’t describe Fast Times At Ridgemont as the worst by any means, but besides Phoebe Cates’ pool scene, Jennifer Jason Leigh’s repeated sexual humiliation is the thing I remember most about that movie. It had the funny Spicoli stuff, and the shocking abortion plotline, but what I truly remember was the looks of constant hurt and betrayal always on Leigh’s face during and immediately after the sex. And dang it, that’s what the show is paying homage to with Nancy! What drives me batty is that the show is basically paying homage to the worst part of an otherwise great movie. Fast Times had a shockingly conservative view on sex considering one of the main characters gets an abortion and doesn’t feel bad about it. Besides the pool fantasy, the moral of all the sex in the movie is that it’s uncomfortable, quick, painful, and ruins relationships. It gives you all the reasons you SHOULDN’T do it. Which considering the porn set scenes with Leigh and her boyfriends, makes the moral extra subversive as there is a ton of saucy, “sexy” nudity as she is getting hurt. Stranger Things doesn’t have nudity (thank God) but it’s giving us the same moral without making the teenage actress actually perform simulated sex on-camera while naked. And I hate that the show goes there, because honestly? 80’s entertainment wasn’t all that great, PRECISELY because of garbage like that. Even the fun party movies like Fast Times and Animal House made all of the sex shameful and perverse. And this show trying to do that on a TV 14 rating is something that makes me unhappy. And it’s the thing I genuinely dislike about the show.

I loved Eleven making that kid pee himself. He had it coming.

What I find refreshing about the gay slurs against Will is that his friends don’t yell “He wasn’t a fairy!” As far as I know, they may have already known whether or not he was gay. It’s a non-issue instead. The kid sucks not for besmirching their friend with the queer accusation, but for thinking it’s actually relevant and something to use against him. To be blunt, that surprises me. Because there is not a single 80’s movie that I am aware of that deals with gay characters that doesn’t portray it as a weakness and a deviancy. This show tries to channel the best and worst of the 80’s. But as long as the kids aren’t calling each other the F word after they hug like Bill and Ted do, it will never be the same. Because that era of movie history was shamefully homophobic, particularly movies for teens and kids. And I like that this show has the properly homophobic characters, but treats them as the bad guys. And not because of the slur. But for thinking the slur actually mattered. And that’s interesting to me.

Those kids had amazingly plausible explanations to their teacher about where Eleven came from, which reminded me something that most people don’t realize, or even WANT to realize. Kids are amazing liars. If an adult could come up with as many plausible untrue excuses as a kid could, they’d be considered a sociopath. Kids who aren’t sociopaths grow out of it, but kids lie to adults and each other masterfully. I cannot imagine how tough being a parent would be when you can literally trust almost nothing out of your kid’s mouth. Even Nancy is a liar (“Nothing happened!”). And this show gets that about kids immediately. Friends may not lie, but that teacher is NOT a friend of a member of the party. So they’ll lie like crud to him.

I love Hopper just punching the deputy, when he couldn’t think of a suitable lie name to tell him. They didn’t have Staples Easy buttons in the 1980’s, but nobody told Hopper that.

That was a great episode. I just wish Nancy and her loser boyfriend weren’t actually in the show. ****.

Stranger Things “Chapter Five: The Flea And The Acrobat”

I love the flea and the acrobat metaphor. That is like the coolest science teacher ever.

When Hopper looks Joyce straight in the eyes and seriously says “You were right,” the expression on her face said that was the greatest gift she had ever received from another person. What a great moment.

And doesn’t Lonnie ruin everything? I mean the characters were starting to come together and figure stuff out, and he comes in to convince Joyce she’s crazy simply so he can cash a payday. I would be a little less frustrated about this setback if it didn’t look like the bad guys were also closing in on solving their own mysteries. Which will be bad for everyone.

Shockingly, this is the first episode I liked the Jonathan and Nancy stuff. And the psychological deconstruction of each other they do is straight out of John Hughes. First off, Nancy is an idiot if she truly believes Steve is a good guy (at least at this point.) As of now, he simply is not, and is using her. By the same token she was right to be absolutely offended that Jonathan is treating her like the poor waif who has no idea what she actually wants. The truth is he said that not because that was what the picture told him. But because he wants Nancy for himself, and is trying to split her and Steve up. And Nancy’s like “You don’t actually HAVE to like him.” I can agree with Jonathan that Steve sucks. But the only reason he thinks so is because he wants Nancy all to himself. And that’s the actual worth of creepy nice guys.

That being said, his insult to Nancy about her pathetic regretful future was sublime, simply because Nancy HAS been feeding into every single cliche you can picture, and expecting a positive result when every sensible person is telling her she is hanging out with a bad crowd. I can totally picture her being the person who turns into her parents and delusionally believes they weren’t so bad all along, instead of realizing how much she currently sucks because of her bad choices. And I think it shocked Nancy a bit, because nobody’s even been honest enough to put it that way to her before. I don’t ship her and Jonathan simply because Jonathan IS a creep, and barely better than Steve. But if what he said in that precise moment makes her step back and rethink things even for a second, I don’t find Jonathan entirely worthless either.

I’m still having a hard time processing my thoughts and feelings about the scenes with the kids. They are the best part of the show, but they feel a little TOO raw, and involve performances that adults should probably not be asking children to do. Which goes right back to the fact that if I were in charge of Hollywood, I’d get rid of all child actors. These kids are admittedly amazing. But the specific things they are being asked to channel makes me feel like they are being mistreated. And that’s my biggest unease regarding the show. I have a sneaking suspicion the best thing about the show is so good simply because the kid performers’ lives are probably messed up. And I feel like by me watching and enjoying the show, I’m a part of that. It’s tough, I’ll tell you.

This was a pretty good episode. I want Sheriff Hopper as my Secret Santa this year. ***1/2.

Strangers Things “Chapter Six: The Monster”

This was the episode where I really started to dig Dustin. The kids owe a lot here to the Losers Club from Stephen King’s IT. I love how Dustin (correctly) noted that he was the only one of the four of them who had been acting reasonably during that fight, and that Mike had been the one to “draw first blood”, so he had to offer the handshake. I also like that he thinks Eleven is one of them, and how he joined into the hug between her and Mike at the end. I “Awwwed!” at that.

I agree with Mike that you can have more than one best friend, and I think the thing that convinced Dustin of that was the notion that if that was true, that means he has a best friend too. Which is kind of adorable.

Pretty good episode. ***1/2.

Stranger Things “Chapter Seven: The Bathtub”

I love Lucas telling Dustin to quit talking smack about Lando. I also loved Dustin telling his science teacher the sensory deprivation tank was “for fun”. I mentioned before that kids were great liars, right?

Not ready to completely buy a full fledged redemption for Steve, but this WAS a step in the right direction. Honestly, the reason it SORT of works is simply because he spurned his horrible friends. And if they’re gone, I can buy they were as bad an influence on him as he was on Nancy. Maybe the fact that they were SO bad that they went too far is the thing that made Steve realize he only had to suck if he chose to suck. But in hindsight it sort of works, even if it’s a turn I’m unhappy with. I would have preferred a comeuppance. But if they try redeeming Billy in Season 3 I’mma throw a boot at my TV.

Loved Lucas’s full-throated apology to Eleven. Took a big man to do that.

Joyce’s loving behavior with Eleven tells me she is actually the mother this kid needs. Winona Ryder killed me.

Great episode. ****1/2.

Stranger Things “Chapter Eight: The Upside Down”

That was a pretty good finale. Mike and Eleven’s goodbye was sweet, and her sacrifice was amazing. I’m worried about Hopper, but getting Will back was a good way to end the season. But if that scene in the bathroom says anything, it’s that this is not over. Not by a longshot.

Good finale. ****.

Stranger Things 2 “Chapter One: MADMAX”

It’s really cool the producers let Eleven’s actress grow out her hair for this season. That was a really sweet ending.

The teaser raised all of the right questions for me. Who is Eight?

It looks like this season will be focusing more on Will.

Decent premiere. ***1/2.

Stranger Things 2 “Chapter Two: Trick Or Treat, Freak”

What a funny cliffhanger. And the end titles are Ghostbusters. Of course.

Dustin was SO funny this episode. Presumptuous is good, right?

I love that Mike hates Max being the fifth wheel. He probably feels like they are trying to replace Eleven. Last episode Will named to Jonathan all of the people in his life who were treating him like a frail freak. And Mike’s name was notably absent from that list. And I see why here. They have both been through traumas the other kids and parents don’t understand. And the thing that kills Mike is that Eleven would have. Them missing each other on the psychic phone call at the end suddenly makes this the most epic love story between twelve-year-olds of all time.

Speaking of epic love stories, this was the first episode I felt bad for Steve. I am also am a little dismayed. I have known all along Nancy didn’t love him. It alarms me this fact surprises him at all. She never acted like he was anything but the guy to date to prove her friends wrong that she isn’t a stick-in-the-mud.

Also, behaving like “normal, rowdy teenagers” is what gets you killed in horror films. Know what genre you are in, Nancy.

I find Hopper’s struggles trying and negotiating to be a parent to Eleven weirdly relatable. And compromise is the word of the day. And I love that he’s teaching her all of these things no-one ever had the decency to teach her before. I don’t suspect that if the doctors got Eleven back they would be happy she now knows how to read. It was much easier to keep her under their thumb when her scope of the outside world WAS limited. And I like that the precise way Hopper is “corrupting” her, is exactly what any good parent would do.

I like that Hopper is super cautious. And that he doesn’t pull his gun on the black kid with the toy gun on Halloween. I loved that scene because it was making a modern statement, and it was one of the few modern statements that the show has made. But what happened with Hopper and the black kid was normal. Or at least it used to be. Maybe even not that. But that would have been considered the normal response. The fact that we have people trying to justify police murdering 12 year olds with toy guns shows that even if that WERE a problem back then, the fact that we now believe the notion is debatable is outright crazy. And the show doesn’t do too much stuff like that.

I liked the debate about Winston Zeddmore in Ghostbusters. His drawbacks are that he joined the team ridiculously late in the movie (and for seemingly no real reason) and he isn’t a scientist, or funny. And Mike uses the fact that he’s cool as a selling point. And he is. But I don’t think the kids are quite old enough to understand that he isn’t cool because he’s black. It’s because Ernie Hudson was so great and comfortable in the role. Only Bill Murray gave a better performance for a Ghostbuster than he did, which is saying something. Lucas is annoyed that Mike doesn’t want to be Winston (presumably because he’s black), but I think Zeddmore is a pretty awesome character on his own, and not due to anything in the script. It’s all Ernie Hudson’s natural charisma.

It fascinates and disappoints me that Eleven is so enraptured by such a poor piece of television as All My Children. All soaps are horrid, but that was particularly bad, even for an 80’s soap. And it crushes me that this fierce and independent girl is so weirdly obsesessed with the trite and corny, and the sappy and cliched, and unremarkable. And as disappointed as I am, I also like it because it’s realistic. Eleven’s most humanizing moment last season was looking at her reflection in the blond wig. Being a pretty / glamorous girl is definitely one of her secret desires. It’s not a desire I’d ever want for her, but considering she spent the first season in a crew cut, I totally get it anyways.

I think this was my favorite episode of the show so far. *****.

Stranger Things 2 “Chapter Three: The Polywog”

That was a freaky ending. I’m feeling for Hopper’s struggle with Eleven, mostly because I sympathize with his point of view more than I do hers. And I still sympathize with hers. It’s just that Hopper is right. His rules just pretty much involve, “Be smart,” and that’s the right answer and always was.

Dustin’s infatuation with Dart is both very cute and charming, and super alarming knowing where it will probably lead. That is hardly a cuddly E.T. creature for a kid to get hung up on. He is obvious a baby Demigorgon and that was always the answer.

I’m really liking Bob so far, and is probably my favorite Sean Astin role since Samwise. I was rooting for him and Joyce even if I suspected he was not going to survive the season.

Dire ending with Will. ***1/2.

Stranger Things 2 “Chapter Four: Will The Wise”

That shot of Dart eating the cat is one of the most horrific things I have ever seen on television. I am going to have nightmares for weeks.

The fact that Will pretty much spent the entire episode shirtless is another reason I think this series is coaxing raw performances out of little kids that no responsible adult would ever be willing to make them perform. It’s great stuff, but it makes me uneasy just because it cannot be emotionally healthy for the kids.

Shocking episode. ***1/2.

Stranger Things 2 “Chapter Five: Dig Dug”

What a frightening closing shot.

For some reason, Dustin saying to Dart, “Sorry about that. But you killed my cat,” made the most appalling scene from last episode funny. Or at least worth it. It’s not much. But it’s something.

I like the crackpot conspiracy guy needing a drink and music to think about what to do with the information he just received. I don’t think Nancy understood how adults like him work at all. Which tells me that whenever Nancy goes out into the real world, she’ll barely be able to function or relate to other people. That guy wanting to sit and stew on that was NORMAL. And Nancy not allowing him the proper time to process it would only be forgivable if she was like 10. Since she’s a teenager, it’s appalling.

At this point, I’m thinking Steve could do better, which is like insane. Love Dustin making sure he still had the bat with nails in it.

Bob is pretty good at this stuff for having no clue what is actually going on. He takes it in stride at least, which is more than I can say for Max.

But the puzzle drives me nuts. Not Bob solving what it meant. That made sense. But how on Earth could Joyce and Hopper put the pictures together in the right order, much less understand that the specific puzzle extended from beyond unconnected pictures? That is the kind of spatial awareness genius that seems to me would be far above Hopper and Joyce. Whenever I got tested with puzzles like that as a kid I always scored high, like in the 98% percentile. And it’s the “loose” puzzles which were the only things I was ever unable to put together or figure out on those tests. Calling b.s. on either Joyce or Hopper not only recognizing the puzzle shape for what it was, but for actually being able to put it together without a picture on the box.

For the record, Mr. Wheeler is the most useless adult on the show. Which is a statement. It’s not as much of a statement as it COULD be, because there ARE some pretty on-the-ball adults on this show, but there are also a fair share of morons, and he’s King Dope.

Pretty good. ****.

Stranger Things 2 “Chapter Six: The Spy”

When did Steve become cool? End of days, man. End of days.

That whole Demigorgan trap at the junkyard was straight out of Jurassic Park. And the only thing that stops the attack is that they are needed elsewhere. You are a very bad boy, Will. VERY bad.

I find the crackpot’s nosiness about Nancy and Jonathan sex life icky and pervy. Maybe it wouldn’t be if they were in their 20’s, but they aren’t, so it is. The “pull-out” line, while answering a few questions I had, was still super disgusting.

And yeah, it’s the 1980’s. Pulling out was a teen’s idea of birth control. I hate that decade so much.

Hopper’s radio to no-one at home broke my heart. What a devastating scene.

Things are getting dire. ****.

Stranger Things 2 “Chapter Seven: The Lost Sister”

That was a little bit awesome.

Eight’s all “They can’t save you.” And Eleven’s all, “No. But I can save them.” Chills, man. Chills. Pushing the right buttons right there.

It’s always the little kids hiding in the other room that gets the hero to second-guess murdering someone. To be honest, as impressionable as Eleven has always been, she had far less justification for it than most heroes placed in that precise scenario. I’m glad the little girls meant she couldn’t go through with it. But she’s a bit of a monster for going as far as she did, even if there weren’t kids in the picture.

I totally buy the idea that Brenner is still alive and out there. But that seems to me to be a Season 3 problem.

My favorite episode of the season. *****.

Stranger Things 2 “Chapter Eight: The Mind Flayer”

Truthfully? That was super predictable. Bob’s death was telegraphed nine ways from Sunday, not just based upon the tropes the show used to get to it, but simply because it became such a forgone conclusion to me that the bigger shock would have been him surviving. Similarly Eleven’s hero moment at the end was something I saw coming a mile away too.

The episode has good points and bad points.

Let’s start out with the obvious bad point. The Duffers Brothers lingering on the gory shot of the Demigordogs eating Bob’s body. The shot of Dart doing that to a cat was so effective because it was upsetting. This was a hundred times that. I think this was the Duffer Brothers trying to tell the audience in no uncertain terms that Bob is dead and not coming back. Do you know what else does that? Not bringing him back! It’s ghoulish what they did instead, which is not something I like to associate with this show.

The good points. I think the most surprising and refreshing thing about the season to me was that Dr. Owen ultimately turned out to be a White Hat invested in protecting Will and his friends. Never would have predicted that. Granted, Paul Reiser is the LAST guy I’d cast for a heavy, but that’s why I thought they cast him: To play against type. Nope, deep down, Owen’s all right. Never would have guessed that.

I also loved the montage of Joyce, Mike, and Jonathan telling stories to Will to get him to remember his humanity as he sends them the solution in Morse Code.

Steve has grown quite a lot as a character. He doesn’t even let Nancy confess anything. It is simply “All right,” and that’s all that needs to be said. That’s cool.

Frankly, I’m a bit annoyed nobody thought to unplug the phone already. But it’s 1984. None of these people are as genre savvy as a modern character would be. They are going to slip up (and in Bob’s case forget to take the gun with them).

I found the allegory of the Mind Flayer inadequate. Because theses creatures, whatever they are, do not seem to me to be Nazi-like superbeings invested in exterminating weaker and lesser beings. They are more like feral beasts causing utter chaos to feed on raw flesh (or in Dart’s case, nougat). And it’s weird that the show has Dustin bring up that particular allegory (as I’m guessing set-up for season 3) when there is simply put, zero evidence in their behavior to suggest a large-scale plan, or even raw intelligence beyond the Shadow itself. As far as I could see, the Shadow is simply Mr. Burns, and the Demigorgans and Demigordogs are simply an unlimited supply of hounds. I see no evidence of a fascist conspiracy here.

This fed into the tropes it used quite well. But since it did practically nothing but feed into tropes from this era, I saw everything coming. ***1/2.

Stranger Things 2 “Chapter Nine: The Gate”

I bet there will be people who complain we spent fifteen minutes of the end of that episode at that dance, but eff them. Stuff like that is why I watch television. And it was refreshing to watch the kids turn in fine performances without being made to be put through the wringer by the adult producers. I could have my pathos with Dustin and be allowed to enjoy it, without wondering how the Duffer Brothers are screwing that kid up.

I love Dustin’s hair. It’s SO bad. What’s funny is he doesn’t think it is.

Here is something else bad that reminded me once again of why I hated the 1980’s. Back then it was trendy for housewives to read romance novels in the bathtub. I’m sorry, that super gross. I get Mrs. Wheeler has all of those candles to “set the mood”, but the truth is she’s reading a book she probably takes elsewhere in the house, including the kitchen where her family eats, while she is soaking in her own filth. Remember the reason George Constanza was not allowed to return a coffee-table book to Barnes & Noble? This is exactly that, except soap operas crazily tried to tell women who did this they were sexy instead of totally gross. I repeat: I hated the 1980’s. I hated everything about them. I would not want to live through it again.

And again, it’s refreshing Owen is a good egg. It shouldn’t be surprising, because it’s Paul Reiser, but I did not expect that at the beginning of the season. I actually got a little choked up at the Jane Hopper birth certificate.

My biggest regret of the season was that Billy was never fed to a Demigordog. Just the fact that Mrs. Wheeler is actually charmed by this dirtbag is a lot like reading a book in a bathtub. It shows how totally devoid of class and common sense she is. It’s like she’s thinks she’s Mrs. Robinson. But she’s not perving on Dustin Hoffman. It’s Henry Bowers from IT. I do not get it. At all.

I sincerely not only hope Billy dies next year, but that the Duffer Brothers linger on that particular death shot. For once I will not complain.

I think the solution to how to cure Will was smart storytelling. Basically all they were doing with the cold stuff is doing what The Shadow wanted, which kept it there. Maybe if it’s uncomfortable it will actually leave. And it does.

Will doesn’t seem to want to dance with the girl at the end, which is another hint he’s gay. But the truth is a kid in his exact position WOULD accept the dance in that same scenario, whether he was gay or not. I personally think he is. And I find it wholly consistent that he doesn’t raise a fuss either way.

Tell me this, Mike and Eleven: Why is current TV’s most epic love story between two twelve year olds? Seriously! What is up with that?

I think my biggest regret of the episode itself is that while Barb’s death was answered for, I feel that Benny the diner owner’s death in the Pilot by the government’s hands remaining unsolved, means the ending is not as satisfying and happy as they are asking me to think it is. So long as it’s still labeled a suicide, it’s unfair. At least that woman who did it probably died in last year’s finale, but as long as it’s thought Benny shot himself, I’m unhappy. I hope at some point Eleven set Hopper straight, but it annoys me we never learn if she did, and if he made amends for that. Oh well.

I liked the finale to this year much better than Season 1’s. *****.
 
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wonderfly

Is this the future?!?
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Just noticed...I can't believe there was never a talkback thread for this series before now...
 

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