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TV Review: Stranger Things (2016)

[By Greg Ehrbar]

A lot has already been said about the Duffer Brothers’ sci-fi hit Stranger Things—connecting its ’80s setting to such films as Goonies, Stand By Me and E.T.—and its addictive, what-is-that-sinister-organization-up-to plot line. Unless I missed something, there’s a helping of ’70s pop culture in there, too, especially the two Disney popcorn favorites, Escape to and Return to Witch Mountain (spoiler alert: there’s a moment that suggests the flying RV).

Stranger Things is rare in that it’s television that almost the whole family can watch together—in our family’s case, with plenty of pauses for discussions, remarks and chuckles over the Johnny Bravo-like hairdo of “The Cool Guy” (who co-stars in the series’ only bedroom scene).

Among all the slime, blood and pus, there’s a great deal of warmth among the characters. The kids are smart and smart-mouthed (think Bad News Bears) but they care about their friends and siblings. In the classic kid-movie tradition, several of the adults are either clueless or moronic.

Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers

Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers

However, there’s a balance between strength and courage, as well as neurotic brokenness within the leads, particularly David Harbour as the still-mourning police chief who finds a purpose he thought was long lost—and especially Winona Ryder, who has to be having a blast playing a rather highly strung divorced mother who is overwhelmed but never defeated. The oft-used “strong female character” is appropriate here because this is a woman without super powers or money, just tenacity. She won’t be pushed down by those who think she’s crazy in her singleness of purpose. At times, it seems she is reaching to “the upside down” through sheer love of her lost son.

As the young girl possessed of powers deadlier than Tony, Tia and Matilda but less malovelent than Carrie, Millie Bobby Brown is a study in quiet intensity and unfathomable pain. Matthew Modine (himself sporting a crop of silver lock rivaling “The Cool Guy”) plays the patented amoral leader of experiments that abuse and exploit the child’s powers.

Netflix just renewed the series for next year—fall 2017! We have to wait! But we can enjoy guessing what next year’s Stranger Things will bring.

Greg Ehrbar is a two-time Grammy-nominated and Addy-winning freelance writer/editor/producer with 30 years on staff with The Walt Disney Company and over 40 years professional writing and production experience. His work in print, network TV and online has been enjoyed by millions worldwide. Greg coauthored "Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records" (published by the University Press of Mississippi); coedited "Inside the Whimsy Works: My Life with Walt Disney Productions" by Jimmy Johnson; contributed to "The Cartoon Music Book" and adapts major films into books and has produced numerous recordings. Named "one of Disney's most trusted writers" by "Comics Guide," Greg is a recognized entertainment historian with appearances on TV, DVD, Blu-ray, the official Disney Parks Blog, animationscoop.com, cartoonresearch.com, gregOvision.com and radio's TV Confidential.

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