One of the many troubles with getting older, other than the trivial ravages time inflicts on us all, is that invariably you become out of touch. Trends, cultural vernaculars, social media has all become a colloquial blackhole associated with exuberance of youth. We become detached, resentful, consoled only by our own fickle minded perception of the world and that anything “new” can be arrogantly dismissed as a lazy imitation of ideas we’ve seen before. There’s an element of prejudice that informs any opinion before you’ve even really had the opportunity to fairly judge something. An attitude I’ve tried to avoid, particularly when something popular becomes such a ubiquitous phenomenon. But like so many commercially prominent, critically praised shows before, the hype that straddles “Stranger Things” has provoked a clear and adverse reaction from myself.
If something is generally perceived favourably by the majority, then I naturally presume the fault lies with me. That I just don’t get it. Which is often the case. But I’m honestly staggered by the popularity of this show. I get that it’s a pastiche of 80’s culture, capturing the decades eclectic sensibilities: The oversized blazers, permed hair and conservative suburban neighbourhoods are all indicative of a decade so culturally absurd. Yet the setting, though dutifully replicated is kind of mute. “Stranger Things” could be set in any decade and literally have no baring on the story. The show ultimately reflects the current public perception that the 80’s garish and idiosyncratic tenure is deserving of nostalgic reminiscing. The real issue however isn’t just the unnecessary shift to the last century’s example of a mid life crisis, but the characters that inhabit it.
“Stranger Things” assimilates many of the archetypal tropes that bound most 80’s influenced media: corrupt government officials. Mysterious murders. Inept law enforcement. Apathetic father figures. The rebellious suburban teen. Kids utilising their guile by creating improvised booby traps to ensnare the big bad guy. Most of which isn’t a major issue, albeit one that is an unabashed exploitation of nostalgia. The problem is that amongst the shows “Flock of Seagulls” inspired clichés is an amassed group of some of Netflix most odious, boring and predictable caricatures, with all the charm of a Trump supporter and the endearing qualities of the corona virus! There is not one redeeming character in this sanity abusing world that doesn’t make me hope for the swift yet excruciating deaths of everyone!
Child actors, especially those that are integral to propel the story forward have, with a few “Stand By Me” exceptions, largely annoyed me. But I was surprised by just how much I loathed the core group, particularly Mike and 11. The former simply irritated me, whereas the latter suffered from a total lack of character, a result of burgeoning scientific experiments conducted by her equally vacuous father, in an attempt to, I’ll assume, bestow some kind of identifiable personality. But instead 11 is endowed with abilities of convenience and the inconsistent power of plot contrivance. Yet I think much of my rooted aversion towards this show can be attributed to Winona Ryder, playing a grieving mother with all the sincerity of a robot trying to mimic human emotion by analysing episodes of Eastenders. Perhaps that was intentional, to again reflect movies such as “Nightmare On Elm Street” where the actress portraying the mother delivered a performance that could be kindly described as “questionable”. But I somehow doubt it.
It’s worth noting that I have only had the pleasure of enduring the first season. Maybe the series improves. Perhaps the kids grow into tolerable human beings and Winona Ryder learns to emote like a human being. But frankly I have little desire to see whether things, strange or otherwise gets better.