Netflix's new series Stranger Things has taken the binge-addicted world by storm, and for good reason: it's fantastic.
The eight-part original series is set in the 1980s in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. It has everything you'd want to remember from all of your favorite 1980s flicks: innocent nerds riding around on bicycles with walkie talkies, a harmless-looking government facility that contains secret projects, blood-hungry aliens, teen love, missing children, and Winona Ryder.
If it sounds like an amalgamation of The Manhattan Project, E.T., Super 8, Freaks and Geeks, and others, it is. That's sort of the point. Stranger Things combines all of these into a gobstopper of 1980s goodness. Just when you're done with one flavor, you're on to the next, with a few more to go until the end.
Neatly organized and well-shot, Stranger Things opens with the mysterious disappearance of Will Byers, one of the four mainline nerd protagonists, who was last seen biking home from a Dungeons & Dragons marathon session at the home of his friend Mike Wheeler.
Will's mother Joyce, portrayed by Winona Ryder, joins with the town police chief to search the region to no avail and devolves (understandably) into a certifiable mess.
Mike, Dustin, and Lucas search, against their parents' orders, in the woods where Will was last seen and stumble upon a semi-mute girl with a shaved head (a dead ringer for a younger Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta) bearing a tattoo with the number 11, whom they call Elle and hide from their parents in a fort in Mike's basement.
Elle knows where Will is, but speaks very few words, thus drawing out the plotline to give the writers more time to hatch subplots. Complicating matters is that the feds—whom locals think work for the Department of Energy—are set on finding her. These are not the nice dopey guys from The Manhattan Project who let some teen steal nuclear bomb-making materials. They'll kill (and do) to try and recapture her.
As one might expect, Elle is different and has supernatural abilities. You can't escape from a secret government lab, have a number for your name, barely be able to form sentences, and not have some secret power. It's a rule of science fiction, I am told.
Since the disappearance of Will and subsequent finding of Elle take place near the Hawkins National Laboratory, you can see where the plot is going: the lab is the key. Add in a dose of LSD, a few references to MKUltra (and later, the appearance of black helicopters), and we're off to the races into the upside-down world of the supernatural.
Without giving away too much, Will is not the only person who disappears. At first a secondary cast of characters, Jonathan and Nancy—the older and more angst-ridden siblings of Will and Mike—and their band of friends supplement the younger nerds as life spirals away from normal in Hawkins.
As the series progresses, the suspended disbelief builds to a crescendo as more and more characters believe what the young nerds and Will's mother long knew: There's something quite eerie going on in Indiana.
Stranger Things is quite a ride. Unlike most weeklies, the 45-or-so minute episodes don't all end in stereotypical cliffhangers. Like a slowly loading video on a bad connection, you're constantly left hungry. It's as if the Duffer Brothers, the co-creators of the series, have found a way to subliminally incorporate MSG into the pixels. Stranger Things is not a guilty binge, where you feel bad about staying up to watch "just one more". Rather, you do it effortlessly, looking over at the clock and realizing it's 4 a.m. Plan accordingly.