by Isis Nelson
The Watchlist is a column written by Isis Nelson, Siblíní's resident feminist art critic. In this, she seeks to express her obviously good opinions about film and television. She's totally not making any of this up as she goes, or anything like that.
1983 – Hawkins, Indiana. Will Byers, a twelve-year-old, has mysteriously disappeared. Frantic and paranoid, his mother, Joyce, independently searches for him as Hawkin’s police chief, Hopper, launches his own investigation. Dustin, Mike, and Lucas – Will’s friends – stumble upon a girl who claims to know where Will is. The boys soon find out that there’s more to their new friend, Eleven, as they move closer to the truth. Said truth, however, is not as nearly as simple as just “Will ran away." Insidious things lurk below [drum rimshot] the depths in Stranger Things.
Now that you’ve a brief, yet totally incomplete overview, we can get into the thick of this review. Exclusive to Netflix, Stranger Things has eight episodes, each one running from 42–55 minutes. It’s utterly addictive, so these episodes feel either very long or very short.
This series, on a base level, reminds me of a procedural investigation show, like NCIS or CSI: SVU. It kind of is, as we do move along with Jim Hopper, the police chief, but he’s not the most conventional cop in the world. By that, I mean Hopper breaks multiple laws on various occasions because he’s just super dedicated. Anyway, the “case” that needs to be is Will’s disappearance. Everyone’s really freaked out about the whole thing.
In fact, Will’s mom, Joyce – the legendary Winona Ryder (Beetlejuice, Heathers) – is the very definition of “freaked out." Not only is she incredibly scared and concerned for the wellbeing of her son, but she also has, like, no idea what’s going on with her other son, Jonathan. What can be said about Jonathan Byers? Played by Charlie Heaton, Jonathan is introverted and quiet, unlike most of the other characters. An aspiring photographer, he lives on the social edges of Hawkins as he takes care of his mother and brother. The chemistry between each of the Byers is warm and familiar; you really do get the feeling that they’re all they have.
While we’re on the subject, every family in Stranger Things just seems to be (for the lack of more delicate terms) kind of trash? They’re not the most healthy family units in the world, is what I'm trying to say. For example, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard; The 100, Supernatural) – Will’s friend – has parents that are The Worst™. I mean, they’re typical white American ‘80s parents, but, boy, they’re just not good at their job of doing that. Mrs. Wheeler yells at Mike’s older sister, Nancy (Natalia Dyer), for coming home late, but then offers emotional support directly after screaming at her. This happens, like, twice, maybe, and goes about as well as you think it would.
I might as well rant about the rest of the kids, now. “The kids” I’m referring to are Will’s friends: Mike, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo; The Blacklist, Les Misérables), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin; The Lion King, Noah Dreams of Origami Fortune), and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown; Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, Intruders). They’re the best, and I love them. Basically, they have this sweet camaraderie that bounces back and forth in-between party members.
By the “party," I mean the group as a whole. The three boys, in the search for Will, function on Dungeons and Dragons rules to govern themselves and quell infighting. This, in fact, is callback to the ‘70s and ‘80s. “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” by The Clash is actually used as an important focal point within the plot. Overall, the tone and feeling do rely on nostalgia, but I’d say it’s entirely shallow and superficial. No part of me, while watching the show, wanted to travel back in time to 1983, and it should stay that way.
Stranger Things doesn’t have feminist values. Thus, it should be kept in mind that it is set 30+ years ago in a small town in Indiana. After all, the main cast is a set of children. Critically speaking, there’s a ton of that unsurprising classic ‘80s ableism, homophobia, misogyny, heteronormativity, etc. Representation-wise, Lucas is the only nonwhite character that has a main role. There are various black characters, but they’re all either unnamed (the ones that aren’t can be counted on one hand), flat/background, or only there for comedic purposes. I’d even argue that Lucas himself is hardly a black character, but rather, a character that just so happens to be black.
The show is so busy that it really lacks the time to ever flesh out many of the characters, honestly. Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly predictable. I mean this in the sense that I guessed the ending, which happened in Chapter Eight, during Chapter Five or Six. One of the things Stranger Things does well, however, is scariness. It’s genuinely creepy, so I recommend you watch it with someone else. On a level that’s more meta, there are some happenings within the show that are very psychologically damaging to the characters, and this is quite well represented.
Stranger Things is not the best TV show this year, but it’s really not the worst, either. It gives itself a self-fulfilling prophecy. The plot is super inconsistent, at times it’s too fast, other times it’s not fast enough. It relies too heavily on quirkiness and nostalgia, rather than solid writing. But, if you have like eight hours of free time and some patience , you should watch it. If not? You’re not missing out on much, honestly.
— Isis Nelson is a 15-year-old writer, poet, and student in Pennsylvania. She writes about human rights, intersectional feminism, politics, and composes prose/poetry in her free time. She blogs too, which you can read here.