I have to admit when constructing the Best of 2016 list, I knew the whole time what was going to be the number one spot. As a matter of fact it was the easiest item on the list. Nothing else this year captured my imagination, love for story telling, feelings of nostalgia, and sense of wonder quite like Stranger Things. For me, it is hands down my favorite thing to come out of 2016.
Right off the bat I knew that Stranger Things was something special. Those opening ten minutes instantly captured my interest and brought me to a world that screamed Steven Spielberg with dashes of Stephen King story telling and a feel of childhood that I didn’t know I missed. One of my favorite types of stories is the “coming of age” tale, think It, The Goonies, or Stand By Me to name some of my favorites, and Stranger Things had that in spades. There’s just something about a group of friends getting in adventures while riding bikes that makes me nostalgic for my childhood. Maybe it’s remembering what it was like to be a kid and how everything seemed to be an adventure when you headed out on your bike or maybe there’s a part of me that’s sort of jealous that I never got into an adventure like this (are you kidding me?! I would love to have taken on the demogorgon), but either way these are the type of stories I love the most. Mix that in with some classic 80’s feels and there was no way I wasn’t going to love this show.
But Stranger Things was more then just a nostalgia machine, this story actually had some depth and brought the feels. The key to any coming of age story is the relationship between the core group of friends, and it seems that Netflix might have hit the jackpot here with these kids. Finn Wolfhard (Mike), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin), Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas), Noah Schnapp (Will), and Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven) absolutely kill in their performances. What makes their friendship so believable on screen is the fact that they’ve become friends off screen. I may or may not follow all of them on Instagram and have zero shame in this admission, and seeing the way they interact with each other is all types of adorable. They are really getting the most out of this opportunity and are basking in the fun it brings which is something that transitions perfectly to the screen and has me with feelings like I want to be friends with these kids. No, not in that creepy 35 year old wants to be friends with a bunch 10-14 year olds but in the way that 10-14 year old Kevin would have loved hanging out with these kids and/or the characters they portray.
The solid acting doesn’t just stop with the kids though. Stranger Things helped to remind the world why we fell in love with Winona Ryder. Ryder gives an outstanding performance of a mother who is willing to do anything (including buying all the Christmas lights in town) to find her son. She is both hopeful and erratic and demands your attention when she’s on screen (P.S. she got a Golden Globe nomination for this). On the flip side, acting journeyman, David Harbour seems to have found a home in Hawkins as his portrayal of Hop (the local sheriff) blends a character who just wants to go through the motions of life but has the depth to understand he can’t. There’s too much heart there. Hop could be the emotional center or compass of this show.
As a story junkie my imagination is in constant motion and since August a large part of that imagination has been revolving around Hawkins, Indiana and the Upside Down. In my Westworld write up, I spoke about how the show got me back into theory spinning mode (something that really hasn’t happened with that type of depth since LOST went off the air), with Stranger Things I had theories (still have tons of them) but mostly I just wanted to discuss the show and the possibilities it has to offer (which is basically theory making… good one Kevin). Think about it. There is still so much of the Upside Down we haven’t seen, what happened to One through Ten (have to figure she’s Eleven for a reason), if someone dies in our world does that mean they can’t exist in the Upside Down and vice versa, and what about that in between world we get to see in the swim tank, what’s that about? See what I mean, I could easily talk about this show for hours and I guess throughout the course of the year I have (look back on the many, many, Stranger Things columns here for example). You’re welcome.
I don’t expect much of that to change though. As I’m writing this I have the finale playing in the background (Dustin just found the chocolate pudding) and have kind of lost track of how many times I’ve watched this series. I know it’s at least two front to back, but I’ve also episode hopped a bunch so chances are it’s any where between three and four. I love this story and it’s characters so much. Not only does it speak to me on the friendship goals level but also on how to create an engaging/masterful/humorous/frightening/emotional/thrilling/suspenseful story. When I watch Stranger Things it inspires me to create. I want to tell a story that could get people feeling just a tenth of what I feel for this show. That would be a success to me. I also secretly hate the Duffer Brothers for making this show. If only because it means I didn’t. And by hate I actually mean love wrapped with jealousy.
With season two coming sometime this year, that’s right it’s now 2017, and speaking of which did anyone see the Stranger Things social media accounts on New Years Eve? They did the ball drop and count down from 1984. I like how our world and their world seem to exist on the same parallel… Sorry I got side tracked, with season two coming out this year, the release of a pop vinyl line in February (I spent my New Years morning putting those pops on my Amazon wishlist), and the endless amounts of t-shirts popping up on my t-shirt sites (Day of the Shirt app for the win! I’ve also had to refrain from buying more Stranger Things shirts as I have like six or seven at this point. Not exaggerating either. Maybe I should top out at eleven? See what I did there?), it seems that I’ll be talking about this show for awhile. As a person who watches a healthy amount of television, who am I kidding, as a person who watches what most would consider an unhealthy amount of television, I know that the second season of any show is a make or break season. Just look at Heroes and how quickly the wheels fell off in season two. There will be a lot of pressure going into a second season especially when you consider there were very little expectations for season one. There was buzz, of course, but no one expected terms like demogorgan, Upside Down, what about Barb, friends don’t lie, and mornings are for coffee and contemplation to become such a large part of the pop culture landscape. But they did because this show captured imaginations. Season two will have it’s work cut out for it but in the mean time season one was the thing I loved most about 2016. It was an unexpected gift and a story I can’t wait to revisit. Honestly, I spent the back half of 2016 searching for books that would give me the same feels as Stranger Things to no success (Disclaimer: I read some excellent books but none with those Stranger Things feels).
As we bid farewell to 2016 and prep for 2017 I think I’m going to excuse myself. It might be time to cook up some eggos throw on my “I Defeated the Demogorgan” t-shirt and strongly consider starting Stranger Things from the beginning (again). I mean, it’s only eight episodes and I have off today… why not?