I never seem to have time to watch a show while it's playing in real time. Consequently, I occasionally fall victim to binge watching. My latest is the Netflix series, Stranger Things. I saw the trailers and meant to watch but—no surprise here—I forgot. That is, until my nephew connected with me to tell me his opinion. He said the acting is good, the cinematography and music are “leaps and bounds ahead of other shows”, and the story is so good each episode feels like a movie. Since we tend to like similar things, I knew I had to try it. I watched the first episode and was hooked. I didn’t stop until I’d devoured the entire season.
My nephew was right. It was a beautiful show with gorgeous camera work and music that set a mood so well it was as if I was in the scene with the characters. But reflecting on the experience, I think if I’d I watched one episode each week I may have gotten bored and wandered off like I have with so many other shows—Beauty and the Beast, Legends of Tomorrow, Haven, to name a few.
On the surface, Stranger Things seemed to have huge flaws. Too many one dimensional adult characters—the doctor, the government agents, the police, the ex-husband. Most of the acting was so over the top it verged on parody—including Winona Ryder, who I’ve respected for years.The teenage drama storyline would have been hard to watch if it had dominated any episode. And at various places I thought, “Oh they're redoing Species, or ET,” or now that I think about it, any number of sci-fi tropes we’ve seen hundreds of times.
Worse, some of the twists and turns were illogical. For instance, the main character, Mike Wheeler (played by Finn Wolfhard) turns on the young girl (the one he’s risking a lot to help) for protecting him. Who does that? Or poor Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) a character so gratingly negative I kept wishing the monster would get him. Thankfully we had Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) who was completely adorable and softened my reaction to the others.
Another clear bright spot in the show was young Eleven, played by Millie Bobbie Brown. Her expressive face (and acting chops that belie her age) made me care about her despite the plodding backstory that was explicitly designed to make her sympathetic. I also connected to Jonathan (Ryder’s oldest on, played perfectly by Charlie Heaton). These two, along with Gaten, are the reasons I watched episode after episode. I plan to watch the show again to figure out how they brought these young protagonists to life and what hooks kept me glued to my seat for eight hours.
Eight hours? Remind me to never admit that again.