While there must be close to 1,000 micrograms of nostalgia in each episode of Stranger Things, do not watch it because it triggers all those fuzzies from your childhood. Watch it because it is a fantastic show that ups the bar for content in a world where Two and a Half Men was consistently one of the most watched shows in the United States for more than a decade. Watch it because, much like Olympic Games, it plants ideas. Stranger Things happens to plant positive ideas about gender identity, people with different colored skin, and generally how humans should treat other humans. Unlike Olympic Games, Stranger Things mostly delivers its payload without detection.
With that disclaimer, we will indulge in a bit of nostalgia. If the only thing we know about something is that it is a bit twisted, we sometimes like to consume it in a non-linear fashion. The first episode we watched was the fifth, which we were told was the penultimate episode. Still thinking we had watched the second to last hour, we watched the first episode before watching the surprisingly long (to us) conclusion. Then we went back to the beginning and watched the initial installments sequentially. Consuming media is not something we do for fun, we do it to probe our physical, emotional, and intellectual limitations. In this case, it was like eating dessert first when your parents were not paying attention.
Set in 1983, the real evil confronted in the series is a human with an all-too-real backstory. The period-correct brands and references up the score on the realness scale even as Akira-level madness starts to mix with a narrative that will remind you of Flight of the Navigator, ET, The Dark Crystal, and several other experiences from your childhood. Our non-linear viewing method led us to believe the narrative would end up in an extremely dark place. The parallels with Grant Morrison’s recent 6-issue comic book series, Nameless, and the story scattered across Reddit one chapter at a time by a user named 9MOTHER9HORSES9EYES9 are a bit on the nose. It does not get that dark.
The end, in fact, is in many ways extremely uplifting. One of us found ourselves sobbing because of one character’s flashbacks and his own memories of a younger sibling who was not expected to live. There are a lot of positive messages packed into this narrative. One of the reasons we focus on dystopian films is that by learning more about the way our world works, we hope to avoid the versions of the future (or past) that we see reflected in such films. Is it naive to think that the more we learn about how terrible humans are to each other, the better the world becomes?