tek's rating:

Stranger Things, on Netflix
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Caution: spoilers!

This began in 2016, and quickly became a major hit. I'd like to call it a "cult" hit, because it certainly has that feel, but its popularity even leaked into the mainstream. So of course I was anxious to see it; in fact, it was one of the things I most wanted to see on Netflix. But of course, I didn't have access to Netflix, so I didn't know when I'd get to see it. Well, I finally watched the first season on DVD in early 2019. (It's a box set of 2 DVDs and 2 Blu-rays, released exclusively at Target, though you can surely find it elsewhere online. I myself found it at a surplus store called Marden's.) The show is set in the early 1980s, so I find it extra cool that the DVDs are in a package designed to look like a VHS tape, complete with slipcover. The show itself does a great job of evoking the feel of the early 80s, including the pop culture references, which are not only enjoyed by the characters, but also obviously influenced the creators of "Stranger Things." I have to say... I ended up not quite loving the show, because I didn't think it quite lived up to all the hype, but that doesn't mean I was disappointed by it, at all. I definitely thought it was really good. And now I really look forward to seeing the second season.

Stranger Things (8 episodes)
The show is set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. It begins one night in November 1983, when four 12-year-old friends are playing Dungeons & Dragons. They include Mike Wheeler, Lucas Sinclair, Dustin Henderson, and Will Byers. After the game, three of the friends ride their bikes home from Mike's house... and Will ends up vanishing. The rest of the season is largely concerned with different people's efforts to find him. But it all ties in to some larger issues. There's a mysterious Department of Energy facility called the Hawkins National Laboratory, headed by Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine). One of the things he's been doing there is raising a girl named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown, a breakout star of the show). She has various psychic powers like telekinesis and whatnot. Dr. Brenner has been using her in experiments to make contact with, like, a parallel world of some kind. (Eleven calls it "the Upside Down.") She escapes from the lab the same night Will goes missing, and later, when Mike, Lucas, and Dustin are out looking for him, they meet her. Mike takes her back to his place, where he hides her in the basement (which he and his friends use as a sort of clubhouse for playing D&D). Lucas and Dustin don't trust her at first, but Mike wants to protect her. (And he calls her "El," for short.) She eventually becomes instrumental in their efforts to find out what happened to Will.

Meanwhile, Will's mother, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), becomes increasingly desperate and frantic to find her missing son. And she soon realizes there are some very strange things involved in his disappearance. Like mysterious phone calls from Will, which result in the phone frying. And the walls distorting themselves. And lights flickering in meaningful ways. So, she knows Will is alive, even if no one else believes her... especially after his dead body is found, at the end of episode 3. Anyway... Joyce is divorced, and was raising Will and her older son, Jonathan, by herself. Jonathan is just as upset about Will's disappearance, but at first he doesn't really believe anything supernatural is going on. Besides, he's got problems of his own. He's kind of an outsider, not really social, and is mostly interested in photography. But I'll get back to that. I also need to mention Mike's older sister, Nancy Wheeler. She's mostly interested in academics, so she's not exactly one of the popular kids at school. However, she's recently started dating a popular boy named Steven Harrington. One night, she and her friend Barb go to a party with Steve and his friends Tommy and Carol, and Nancy ends up having sex with Steve. At the same time, Jonathan was out in the woods with his camera, looking for Will, when he comes upon the secluded house where the party had been. He takes some pictures of Nancy, through a distant window, as well as of Barb, who was sitting alone by the pool. And then, suddenly, Barb disappears.

Steve and his friends later find the pictures Jonathan had taken, and think he's just some creepy stalker or peeping tom or whatever. And Steve smashes his camera. Well... I gotta say, they weren't really wrong that he shouldn't have been taking those pictures, and despite early attempts by the show to make us think of Steve as a jerk, I can't say I blamed him for disliking Jonathan. But Nancy didn't seem creeped out by Jonathan at all. And when she realizes Barb has gone missing just like Jonathan's brother did, the two of them begin to get closer, as they try to seek the truth of what happened. And they eventually discover a monster that had come into our world from the Upside Down, and later make plans to lure it out of hiding and kill it. Meanwhile, the town police chief, Jim Hopper, has also been investigating Will's disappearance. He eventually discovers that the body that was found is not a real body at all. And he becomes suspicious of Hawkins Lab.

Well... I think those are all the major plot points for the season. It's all very strange and creepy and mysterious and intriguing. And eventually all the plot threads and characters start to converge, when they learn the secrets one another had been keeping about all they'd each learned. And finally, the Hawkins Lab people try to get Eleven back, while her new friends try to protect her. And all while still trying to find Will and stop the monster. (Mike, Dustin, and Lucas call the monster a "Demogorgon," named after a monster from their D&D game.) I'll hold off on any major revelations about how everything ends, for now. Though I suppose I'll have to reveal those things when I get around to watching and reviewing season two. Meanwhile, I'll just say I think this is a pretty cool show with some interesting characters. And I think it's entirely possible that I'll raise my rating of it after I've seen more of it.

Stranger Things 2 (9 episodes)
...Okay, so in the summer of 2019, around the time the third season was released on Netflix, I bought season two on DVD/Blu-ray from Target.com. (Once again, its case looks like a VHS case, though a different kind than the season one case.) I also should mention that the season is called "Stranger Things 2," as if it were a movie sequel (hence my labeling of the seasons in my review). I'll also say that after watching this season, I raised my review from 3 and 3 quarters smileys to 4 smileys. And... I guess it's time to reveal some things from season one. For one thing, it was discovered that Barb had died in the Upside Down. (In season two, her parents, who know nothing of the supernatural goings-on in Hawkins, assume Barb is just missing, and Nancy is upset about having to withhold the truth from them.) Joyce and Hopper learned about a woman named Terry Ives, now catatonic, and being cared for by her sister, Becky. Terry's baby, Jane, had been taken from her by Dr. Brenner. And Jane is actually Eleven, but the truth of her origins is withheld from her. Eleven eventually uses her powers to kill the Demogorgon, but she then disappears, herself. Joyce and Hopper find Will in the Upside Down, and bring him home. (We later see him cough up a slug-like creature, into a sink, and it disappears down the drain.) Um... I'm sure I'm saying things out of order. Like, Brenner and his team try to recapture Eleven, but they fail. And Steve turns out to be a pretty decent guy, helping fight the Demogorgon at one point. And after some trouble in his relationship with Nancy, they eventually get back together. And I'm probably forgetting some things.

Now, as for what happens in season 2... it starts out in October 1984. We see a group of people in a van, trying to escape from the police, in Pittsburgh. One of them is a young woman who can apparently make people see things that aren't there. Or something. We don't get to know much about this group, yet, but we'll see them again later in the season. Meanwhile, in Hawkins, a girl named Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) moves to town. Dustin and Lucas both soon develop crushes on her. (And I think she's pretty damn cool.) While they don't actually talk to her at first, she notices their interest, and calls them stalkers. Nevertheless, she does eventually befriend the two of them. However, Mike resents her presence in his group of friends, apparently feeling like she's trying to replace Eleven, who is still missing. Ever since she disappeared the previous year, he's been trying to contact her via his walkie-talkie (something that had proved somewhat effective earlier in season one). Meanwhile, Max's older stepbrother, Billy Hargrove, who often has to give her rides in his car, clearly doesn't like her at all, and he also doesn't want her hanging around with her new friends. (Really, he's a complete asshole... though later in the season I'll develop a shred of sympathy for him, when we see the way his father treats him.)

Joyce is currently dating a guy named Bob Newby (Sean Astin), who seems nice. Meanwhile, Hopper begins investigating a farmer's complaint that his pumpkins, which have suddenly rotted overnight, must have been sabotaged or whatever. It turns out that this rotting has been happening in several pumpkin fields, and it eventually leads Hopper to discover some very strange underground tunnels. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Um... I should say that Will has been having visions of the Upside Down ever since he returned. So Joyce takes him to see Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser), the new director of Hawkins Laboratory, now that Brenner is gone (having apparently been killed by the Demogorgon in season one). Owens seems more compassionate than Brenner was, but he is still in charge of research into the Upside Down, which is very dangerous. And at the end of the first episode, we learn that Eleven is secretly living with Hopper in a cabin in the woods.

In the second episode, there are flashbacks to how Eleven escaped from the Upside Down, and eventually came to live with Hopper, to hide from anyone from the lab who might still be looking for her. Meanwhile, there's some drama between Steve and Nancy, which I don't want to get into, but it seems like they could split up again. And she eventually starts spending time with Jonathan again, investigating more weird stuff. And Dustin finds a creature that he calls a pollywog, though it doesn't seem quite like any animal he's ever seen, and can't find anything quite like it in books from the library. But anyway, he decides to keep it as a pet, and names it D'Artagnan (or "Dart," for short... which I found kind of neat, because years ago, in some of my Star Trek fan fiction, I made up a character with that name). And... in one episode, Eleven leaves the cabin to look for Mike. When she finds him (from a distance), he's talking with Max, whom he still doesn't like, but Eleven can't hear what they're saying, and seeing them together makes her jealous. So, she returns to the cabin without letting Mike know she's still alive, and stuff.

And... man, so much stuff happens, I can't keep it all straight, nor do I want to spoil all of it. But Nancy and Jonathan meet a private investigator named Murray Bauman, who is also a conspiracy theorist, I guess. He's weird... but insightful. Dart escapes from the cage Dustin had put him in, and grows into new forms a few times. Dustin eventually realizes Dart was actually an infant Demogorgon, and is very dangerous. Lucas tells the truth to Max about all the supernatural stuff that's been going on ever since Will disappeared last year, but at first she doesn't believe him. He does eventually manage to prove it to her... by including her in a group effort (including Steve) to find Dart and, I dunno, either recapture or kill it. But it turns out there are a lot more creatures like Dart around, which makes the mission far more dangerous than anticipated. (They're still not full-grown, and Dustin takes to calling the creatures Demodogs.) And... personally, I thought it was pretty selfish of Lucas to put Max in danger by bringing her fully into the group, but I guess it ends up bringing them closer together. Meanwhile, Eleven discovers research Hopper had done into her biological mother, Terry Ives, and she goes off on a trip to find her. And she learns that her real name is Jane. And... Terry isn't really coherent, but Eleven/Jane manages to use her telepathic abilities to get some idea of what's going on in her mother's mind. This includes the fact that Brenner had been training another girl like her. Jane later travels to Chicago, where she meets the girl, Kali, who is the one I mentioned from the first scene of season two. She's part of a gang that is doing whatever it can to fight the organization Brenner was a part of (though I think Kali's the only one with powers). Anyway, Jane and Kali consider each other sisters, and Jane starts working with the gang (and gets a rad new look). But she eventually realizes she needs to return to Hawkins to help her friends. (Which reminded me of Luke leaving Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back.)

And... throughout the season, Will's condition gets worse. There's something inside him, like a virus, that connects his mind to... some kind of giant shadow creature that I guess controls all the Demodogs. For awhile, the good guys tried using Will's connection to spy on this creature, which they call a "Mind Flayer" (once again, named for something from D&D). But later in the season, it seems the Mind Flayer was using Will, itself. So, the good guys have to find a way to get the virus, or whatever, out of Will. (Especially since killing the Mind Flayer would also kill Will, unless the connection was severed.) And... eventually Eleven shows up and saves everyone from Demodogs, before making a dramatic entrance. There's also a fight between Steve and Billy... a fight that's ultimately won by Max. Eleven manages to close the Gate between our world and the Upside Down. Later, Hawkins Lab gets shut down, and Owens forges a birth certificate for Jane, with Hopper as her father. And all the kids attend a school dance (which is something Mike and Eleven had wanted to do in season one, but never got the chance). So now those two are together; Lucas and Max are together; some random girl asks Will to dance; and... Dustin gets a special dance partner of his own.

And I dunno what else to say. I've said so much out of order, and left out so many details, but I definitely got more invested in the show this season than I did in season one. And now I'm really looking forward to season three being released on DVD, so I can see how things go for everyone in 1985....

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