Right now I’m supposed to be writing the next instalment of Bad Movies with Brad. I’m really excited to do that as I think it’s going to be a pretty good one. John Wayne is in it. However, this weekend I started watching Stranger Things on Netflix, and to say watching this series has been a joy is the definition of understatement. Not only do I think Stranger Things is one of the most creative things Netflix has yet produced; not only a love letter to Steven Spielberg’s early work; it’s the key to getting us out of our current post apocalyptic sci fi nightmare. How in the hell are those two things related? You’ll see.
Stranger Things shares a lot of its DNA with Close Encounters, Poltergeist, ET, and The Goonies all of which has been commented on in the leadup to its release on Netflix. But no one has been talking about how much it shares with Stephen King’s work from the same period. Watching the show feels like you’re watching some lost adaptation of a book King wrote somewhere between It and The Talisman and it really carries over all those wonderfully creepy notes. The plot has a lot of the same things we’ve heard before: a group of outcast boys, one of whom disappears while the others find a runaway girl with special powers in the woods; a shadowy government agency; a monster out for blood; and a sleepy Indiana town turned upside down by all of it. Without a doubt Stranger Things is the ultimate 80s period piece. I’ll just briefly pause to mention the amazing sythesizer score which gives just the right creepy atmosphere.
This is the point where most reviewers would praise Winona Rider’s amazing performance. It really is amazing too, Joyce Byers, her character, is intense, emotional, and relentless in wanting her son back. It’s a pleasure to watch, however, the real reason you need to watch Stranger Things is because of these kids
Not only are all four child actors giving flawless performances, but childhood adventure stories like this just don’t exist anymore. Stranger Things is not afraid to have its child character sneak out of the house, go off on their own and get into some real trouble. They sneak around secret government bases, run through the woods in the dark from monsters, all sorts of things. I’m sure this is conjuring up plenty of images from movies you loved as a child, but probably none of them made within the last twenty years. The fact is, kids adventure stories like this don’t exist anymore. And while I was watching Stranger Things it occurred to me why not, why the show is set in 1983.
Because cell phones broke kid’s adventure stories, that’s why.
Really, I’m sure it’s been said before but most of these kind of stories really relied on terrible parenting. Kids needed to be able to lie about going to a friend’s house, go roaming around in caves with no one looking for them, or just flat out disappear for long stretches at a time without anyone saying anything till the plot said it was convenient. No kid in 2016 would be able to hide E.T. in his room. Nor would they be able to get as close to the treasure in The Goonies without getting 30 missed calls and 50 texts between everyone. And you may as well just scrap the plot of Lost Boys. I mean in War Games Matthew Broderick gets arrested by the FBI and his parents don’t even know.
Clearly Hollywood is under the impression that in order for kids to get out and have an adventure, their parents can’t be there to stop them. Why do you think most of the time now when you have one of these stories it’s set in a post apocalyptic wasteland? Because it’s an easy shorthand way to get rid of parents. Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Divergent every one of them. If there are parents the setting takes them away quickly, or just removes them all together. Because modern parents not only care too much, but they’ve provided their kids with wireless, mobile umbilical chords.
While Stranger Things dodges this by setting the whole thing in 1983, it also goes out of its way to prove this assumption is bullshit. The parents in Stranger Things are attentive, and they check up on their children. Winona Ryder’s character desperately cares for her son and will do anything for him. And every other parent portrayed are concerned, and attentive. Their kids are just a bunch of lying little sneaks. Not only that but -not to spoil anything-, by the end of the season Stranger Things manages amazing climaxes for the adults, teens, and kids involved in the plot all at the same time.
They prove that just because you own a cell phone doesn’t mean you can’t tell your parents you’re going somewhere else when you go to a party. It certainly doesn’ mean you can’t hide a psychic girl in your basement and sneak her junk food. If you’re creative enough you can find ways around phone calls and text messages. Heck, if you think hard enough you can even come up with some n make Ghostbusters work today you can bet someone can figure out a way to make The Goonies work.
If you miss the days of The Last Starfighter, Flight of the Navigator, or Explorers then Stranger Things is definitely for you. Maybe soon we’ll be able to see kids having adventures right in their own backyards again, instead of having them at the end of the world.