Late to the Party: Stranger Things Season One

Athena ScalziI’ve been meaning to hop on the Stranger Things band-wagon for a while now, but after seeing so many people praise the newest season, I decided it was finally time I join the crowd. I did watch season one back when it originally came out, but it’s been so long I didn’t really remember much. Definitely not enough to just continue straight on to season two, anyways.

I’m gonna go ahead and give the SPOILER WARNING now. You have officially been warned.

Stranger Things never really seemed like something I would be into. I don’t like horror, I’m not a big fan of the 80s, and I don’t really like creature features. So why did I love season one?

Well, let’s talk about why I don’t like horror first. I’ve never liked horror movies because they’ve always felt lacking to me. Lacking in plot, lacking in three-dimensional characters and character development, and overall just uninteresting gore-fests that rely on super dark shots and jump scares to make you scared.

Of course, there are exceptions, but I feel confident in saying that most horror is just, “you’re here to see people get chainsawed to death and not think too much”. They’re not complex, they’re just designed to make your heart race. And it works, I’m not saying it doesn’t, but it’s just largely boring.

Stranger Things has the advantage of being a show, rather than a movie, so it has much longer to establish and develop things like characters than a 90 minute movie does. In horror movies, you never care about the person that gets hacked to death by a guy in a mask because you were never given time to care about them. They’re just a character whose name you might not even remember by the end of the film. Stranger Things avoids this, not just because they have eight episodes to fully introduce the characters, but by making memorable characters that feel really real.

Characters in horror films are just people that the plot happens to. Stranger Things has characters that make the plot happen. This is one of the key differences, but it is certainly not the only one.

While Stranger Things has its fair share of jump scares, it’s not the only source of its horror. It doesn’t rely so heavily upon them, and uses other forms of horror to instill unsettled feelings in you. My personal favorite example of this is one of the many Christmas lights scenes between Joyce and Will, when she gets the idea to paint letters on the wall so he can more easily talk with her. When he lights up “R”, then “U”, and Joyce’s eyes go to “N” even before the camera zooms in on the now-lit red light above “N”, now that is terrifying.

Going back to the characters, I was originally going to say that Stranger Things made their characters likeable, but I ended up using memorable instead, because frankly, not all the characters are likeable. Some are unlikeable on purpose, like the bullies, or Papa, but some are just unlikeable because people are flawed creatures and aren’t likeable 100% of the time. Like Steve. Sure he has his moments where he can be endearing or not a total dick, but largely he’s a jerk and unlikeable (and yes, I know from the memes that he becomes better, but just for the time being is kind of an ass).

What’s interesting to me about Stranger Things is that they make their kid characters actually act their age. They’re immature, and rash, and have a hard time controlling and expressing their emotions. They mess up, make bad calls, and don’t always know what to do. They’re not heroes, they’re just kids doing the best they can in wild situations. I really like that they let kids be kids in this show.

As for the adult characters, my favorite character is probably Joyce. She is so strong, and persistent, and full of rage. She persevered more than anyone, and even in the face of everyone telling her she’s insane, she kept believing. She didn’t give in, never rolled over and called it quits. She didn’t care what others thought, she knew she was right, and would never lose hope, no matter the cost.

I also love how loveable they make Hopper. Drunk sheriffs in a rural town are not usually my type of character, but I make an exception for a guy who was a good dad, who drowns his grief from losing his child, who is willing to look too far for his own good into a local missing kid’s case, and who protects others.

Good, realistic characters whose purposes aren’t just to get their guts spilled. It makes all the difference.

As for the plot, I find the idea of the Upside Down very interesting, and am excited to (presumably) learn more about it in the following seasons. I’ve always been a fan of alternate dimension concepts, and seeing one so spooky is nightmare fuel. I also find the “gates” interesting in terms of appearance. I dislike how fleshy they look. It’s certainly disturbing, especially when Will is inside the wall.

All in all, Stranger Things has been great so far, I really enjoyed every episode and didn’t feel like it was slow or dragging at any point. The pacing is basically perfect. This week, I’m watching the second season, so stay tuned for a review of that! And have a great day!

(Also please don’t spoil anything for me in the comments.)


25 Comments on “Late to the Party: Stranger Things Season One”

  1. I hope you continue to enjoy it
    I am of course closer to your Dad’s age but ST speaks to my inner middle-schooler so very much

  2. I’m an old fart who could’ve been in school with those kids, so I’m always curious how the show hits with people who weren’t there.

    Season one was the first (and I guess still only) show I ever really binged, as in started watching the day it premiered and didn’t stop until it was over.

    Hope you keep enjoying it.

  3. Thanks for this, Athena. I watched the first 3 seasons with glee, but have lost steam after only 2 episodes of season 4. Your review reminded me why I liked this show and should perhaps give the rest of the season another chance.

  4. I’m also not a horror fan – and the fleshiness is real – but it’s so well put together! Glad you’re enjoying it so far

  5. I think the casting of Winona Ryder in that role was magical. She’s been through some shit in her day, but also has always been an amazing actor.

    The only thing I don’t like about later seasons (not a spoiler), is that they won’t change the kid’s haircuts or clothes. NO ONE was wearing bangs in the 80’s unless the were feathered!!! (yes, guys too) And the style of shorts they have them wear are also for little kids. These actors are in their 20’s now, as well, so it all looks terrible, lol.

    If that annoys you once you get there, just know you’re not alone.

  6. Can’t read this yet, I’m even later than you. I need to do something about that. And I’ve apparently missed a season of Russian Doll as well, which I believe is probably a greater oversight. We’ll see. Meanwhile my curiosity is further piqued.

  7. I loved season 1, couldn’t get into season 2 and quit after 3-4 episodes, didn’t know they made season 3, and season 4 is making me want to re-try season 2.

    Good review.

  8. I’m with you on horror films. There was one, the name of which I can’t remember, which seemed to just be people running through woods. It was massively hyped and it bored me rigid.

  9. okay no spoilers… so I can only hint how shocked you’ll be when the paternity DNA test comes back confirming Darth Vader has a son…

    as to horror…

    Good modes of presenting horror versus bad and/or clumsy.

    Oh, yeah horror sold. But. But? But well written written sells better and those authors attract an ever widening following. Not just Stephen King, though his name came to mind immediately.

    Also he managed to write not just one variant of horror over ‘n over like other authors, he sought out facets that kept his readership in new nightmares. “Carrie” versus “Pet Sematary”. “The Stand” differing from “The Shining” and nothing all like “The Shawshank Redemption”. (Anyone who can finish reading “Misery” is not necessarily a sane person.)

    You could write a dozen-hundred blog posts about the intertwining of culture and horror.

    Periodic warnings from clergy that horror content — books, movies, comics — were corrupting children having fallen upon deaf ears. Because there’s always been horror. Not just fables gathered by Brothers Grimm generations ago (none of which intended for children but so many ended up reading ’em all the same).

    But there’s the daily news. Ever more bad things happening to people. Whether seen up front in person on the streets or read about in newspapers, the world has always been soaked in horror.

    Awful thing for me, no need for demons nor the Upside Down, never going to visit the version of Portland as homebase for Brothers Grimm (ala NBC’s “Grimm”) there’s the headlines.

    Real headlines. I came here to the content from House Scalzi because screaming into my pillow just was ineffective at reading about stuff which any rational adult will read with shame-disgust-nausea.

    To escape reality into pretend horror, that’s something I’m sure will be not so bad as the real thing.

  10. I’m also late to the party. I’ve watched two seasons so far.

    Since I’m the same age as your father I am enjoying the clothes, music, technology, etc. I haven’t thought too much about this being a horror show. I guess it is, but it feels like an affectionate parody of PG rated movies from the 80’s. Children on bicycles can outrun adults in cars. The gleeful implausibility of the plot twists definitely reduces the horror factor for me. That said, I feel that El is in a scarier and generally more hardcore movie than the other characters.

  11. No spoilers. I finished watching Season 4 and went back and re-watched the first three seasons. It works, and they build on stuff from each seasons.


  12. This is an excellent review. I saw part or all of several episodes (mostly season 1?) while visiting family and, while I’m not much into horror either, it was fun to see the era of my childhood fictionalized.

  13. I haven’t watched a lot of it because it just looks like a rehash of the old Eerie, Illinois TV show from the early 90s.

    The effects are better, writing about the same.

  14. At least you’re late to the party. I haven’t seen a single “Stranger Things” episode mainly because I have way more things on my viewing plate than time.

  15. One of the things I found so appealing about season one was that while no one was perfect, the lines between the good guys and the bad guys were clear. The mom was a good mom and was doing everything she could; the sheriff was doing his best to do his job and still not be a dick about it; and the kids were trying to understand the truly weird shit that was going on. Then you had the government and the bullies being evil. And with the one exception (which proves the rule, as they say) you didn’t have to worry about ‘redemption arcs’ that have gotten so out of hand lately. Because, seriously folks, some things really are unforgiveable.

  16. I am disturbed by how many people treat watching TV as some kind of obligation (a few here and even more in our larger culture).

    I know I lost this battle decades ago (I stopped watching TV in college in 1974 because I had no access), but I still hate what it says about our culture.

    Consuming fiction oughta be fun, and not doing so ought not to be shameful!!!

  17. My boyfriend had watched the first episode of the first season when it came on. He told me about the show and I agreed to watch it with him. I liked it until the end of the first season and it grossed me out. I haven’t gotten myself to see the second season. I may soon though.

  18. Completely beside the point, do you think you might be interested in doing this kind of thing for a living? I got to say, your reviews are more thought out than most of the crap out there that passed as a professional review. More Siskil/Egbert like and not a lot of snarkey bullshit. Even if it’s not something I am interested in, I find the writing better crafted than stuff in the pay copy. Just a thought….

  19. I am, maybe, unreasonably pleased every time I see that someone has (re)discovered this show. I think it’s a delight.

    Looking forward to reading your thoughts on the upcoming seasons.

  20. That you get to know characters better in a continuing show than a movie is a good point, and whether I’d want to make the investment in watching a show depends on whether I want to get to know the characters.
    That was why I gave up on Breaking Bad, though I recognized it was a good show: the characters were unpleasant and I didn’t want to spend excessive time with them. If the first season of that had been reworked into a single movie and stopped there, I would have enjoyed it – as a movie. I wouldn’t be making TV-style investments in the characters.
    Shows I’ve watched are ones where I liked the people and enjoyed spending time with them. The last I watched that fit that description was Orphan Black.

  21. Can I recommend The Haunting of Hill House? If you like getting to know characters, that is a show that excels.

    There are scenes of horror that are strangely satisfying, and I don’t mean in the sense of bad guys getting what’s coming to them. It isn’t a high body count show. I can’t recommend it enough.

    Also, it completes the story in a single season. There’s a season 2, but it’s a different story with different characters.

  22. They all die at the end watching Krull and drinking Bartles and Jaymes while listening to Amy Mann. And that’s enough for any mortal.

%d bloggers like this: