Nostalgia is a tough nut to crack. Plenty of shows and films have attempted to take us back into the past, but many suffer from utilising music, images or clothes to yell loudly in your face that “THIS IS THE 80s, REMEMBER THIS, AND THIS, WHAT ABOUT THIS!” This is all well and good, but it’s all very fleeting. Reminiscing that yes, you did have a poster of Pamela Anderson on your wall, or that your mum did wear those big framed Deidre Barlow specs, is not nostalgia; it is nothing more than random baseless flashes of a distant time.
True nostalgia is a feeling. The feeling of meeting your friends in the summer months way into twilight hours and venturing out into the sun bathed forest, the feeling of battling great imaginary beasts with said friends and the feeling that the big wide world is only just starting to reveal its many secrets to you. Otherwise known as childhood.
This is a mood that Stranger Things; Netflix’s latest homegrown TV masterpiece, captures perfectly. Opening on a familiar childhood basement hideaway, we are immediately dropped in to a bunch of friends, each whom bring a different aspect to the group dynamic. We have the token leader, vocal, bossy and maturer than the rest. The comedy relief, who coincidentally has the biggest heart. The small shy nervy one, whom just might be the bravest of them all. And the wild card, the one willing to stand his ground, stubborn to the last yet nothing but completely loyal. You could argue that these boys are nothing new to the childhood adventure cliche model, but what differs here is the chemistry. The history between them is not spoken but is readily apparent. You sense that no matter how they bicker they would be lost without one another.
As the focus spreads out we meet other familiar yet fully realised players in this tale. The older sister on the verge of a teenage awakening, sexually and socially; the local oddball family given extra heart courtesy of a never better Winona Ryder; and the town sheriff who may just have some tragic event lurking in the recesses of his past.
The first few episodes keep our players in their own stories, slowly and brilliantly pushing them together as the conspiracy explodes. Speaking of conspiracies Stranger Things has a simple yet captivating central mystery. A secret government facility (under the guise of the dull sounding Dept of Energy) is conducting weird experiments into a strange pulsating opening in the bowels of their basement, whilst a young girl escapes said facility with unusual powers.
This girl is the unexpected gem in a cast full of capable and winning performers. Eleven; as the boys so lovingly call her, played by relative newbie Millie Bobby Brown is a revelation. Vulnerable but with hidden fortitude in unexpected moments, and capable of showcasing a incredible range of emotions entirely in her eyes. This is a performance that’ll give rise to a fair few Hollywood offers.
If Brown is the standout it’s not for lack of competition from the rest of the cast. David Harbour brings a tragic soul to his good cop, Ryder is hyper manic but believable in her parental anguish and Matthew Modine chills as the silent menacing leader of the governmental crackpots.
The central monster is genuinely terrifying, the camerawork classical and warm, and don’t get me started on the spot on synth score. (Get it on iTunes as soon as, it’s a doozy). All can be traced back to the men behind this slice of TV magic; The Duffer Brothers. Unheard of in the mainstream prior to this, they’ve created an indelible calling card as to what talented individuals they are. Never undermining the central conceit with tacky genre cliches, they seek out the heart within all their menagerie of characters. Although they do have surprising help from Cheaper by the Dozen director Shawn Levy, who produces as well as directing a couple of episodes, proving that immature fluff films starring Steve Martin are not representing his best side.
I could go on for pages more, I haven’t even touched on the school bully who becomes anything but, the beautifully edited glimpse into the sheriffs past, and numerous other magical touches. This is a show that sucks you in, and stays with you for days after. It didn’t make me yell that I wore similar clothes or had the same movie posters on the wall as them. It did, however, make me long for those days back at home, sun perpetually at twilight, riding into the woods preparing to fight monsters; ours were unfortunately very much imaginary. And that is how you do nostalgia.