How a Group of Little Kids Made Stranger Things the Best Show on Netflix
Remembering a time when movies and TV reflected real-life dangers.
BY corey atad | Jul 25, 2016 | Film & TV
Let me take you back to a time long ago, an idyllic time when your local multiplex was rife with movies about kids getting caught up in wild, scary, dangerous adventures; when kids were free to be obnoxious and curse at each other; when parents put their kids to bed and went back to their bedrooms to smoke pot; when getting caught up in a government conspiracy and being chased by men in suits with guns was par for the course; and when all of that was rated PG.
Of course, endless references, a Carpenter-inspired synth score, and the triumphant return of Winona Ryder are hardly enough to rest eight hours of television on. Where Stranger Things succeeds, even beyond its cool central mystery and intricate plotting, is in how it deals with the children at its core. The show's central characters are four young boys: nerdy kids who play Dungeons and Dragons in the basement and think kissing girls is gross. They ride bikes around town and communicate with each other on walkie-talkies and get picked on by psychopathic bullies. One of them has an older sister who's secretly dating the popular bad boy, and having sex for the first time while her geeky best friend waits outside to get snatched by a monster from another dimension. These kids say "shit," they call each other "douchebag," they talk over each other constantly, and hide as much as possible from their parents. Much like the kids in E.T. or The Goonies, these are kids who push the boundaries of acceptable behavior, all while approaching the dangers of the world with open curiosity and reckless abandon. You know—a lot like real kids.
Meanwhile, kids' movies have been relegated to the PG and G-rated world of computer animated films. Only fantasy fare like the Harry Potter series come close to what the kids movies of the '80s offered, but without those older films' realistic setting. Everything is at a safe remove these days. "Think of the children," we demanded, and Hollywood responded by making sure nothing on our screens could really hurt them again.
Stranger Things, through the great freedom now provided by television, and by shamelessly mining '80s classics, has brought back a more real and relatable representation of childhood. Despite being an old way of telling kids stories, it's been so long out of fashion that seeing it again doesn't just tickle our collective nostalgia, it's actually just straight up refreshing. Stranger Things re-captures something we had lost to time, gives it back to us in a new, but familiar, way, and reminds us of the very real reasons we loved those old films in the first place. Much more than the superficial stylistic homages, it's the kids that make it great.