Friday, July 21, 2017

20/20 - #5 Stranger Things season 1

2016, d. The Duffer Bros.

It's been a year...a whole year since Stranger Things debuted.  Hell it didn't so much debut as catch fire and roll screaming down the hall.  This thing was H-O-T hot a year ago.  Early notice from the Weekly Planet podcast had me on the lookout for the show's arrival, and when it came I couldn't trumpet its praises higher.  From the opening title sequence, with it's John Carpenter-inspired theme pulsating and thudding as it reveals its retro-Stephen King bookjacket font (ITC Benguiat), an ominous red radiating mutely against a stark black backdrop, I was in.  Then title cuts over to the chapter heading, again a stark, but solid, red font against the same black backdrop, only the red drops out, revealing an image behind it, as the text floats forward, larger and larger, revealing more and more of the image, the text becoming too large to be contained on screen, until its gone altogether.

The rest of the show could have been complete dross, but I would have still loved it for only these few touches.  The evocation of the 1980's is the intent of this opening sequence and it achieves it irrefutably.   It's strange to be so in love with the opening credits of a TV show, but really, I can't remember any TV credits sequence that enthused me to this degree where I don't want the credits to end.

With most shows, when binge watching, the credits become a hindrance, a time suck, they just get in the way of watching more of the show.  With Stranger Things they're chapter markings, a stopping and starting point.  They are an essential tone setter (and resetter).  If you've stepped away then you're instantly transported back into the mood of the show with the credits.  If you've just completed the previous episode then this acts as an interstitial, the chapter title providing a little foreshadowing and the zoom in setting the scene for this next stage.

Beyond the credits is one of the best TV experiences I've ever had.  It's a nostalgia bomb, sure, but even if you weren't a child of the 80's it's so true to the era that it feels of the era, not retro.  The details seem so precise (though I'm told a couple of the songs on the soundtrack are anachronistic, debuting after the time setting of the show)... the wardrobes are garishly spot-on (not so flattering as "retro" shows tend to make the style of the time), the living spaces are absurdly busy with meticulous details (very little of which seems incongruous to its environment), and technology is right where it should be.

The King/Carpenter vibe permeates the show, it fuels it.  It's the perfect homage-slash-mashup of the two gentlemen's works in the 70's and early-80's, and yet it does it with such a modern sense of pacing and storytelling that it's totally of-the-now.  The Duffer Brothers don't just look to their primary influences, but outside ones as well, there's aspects of James Cameron, John Hughes, and certainly others I'm not even cluing into.  As a result, we have a nearly perfect show (#justiceforBarb) that I have a feeling will actually be timeless.  The acting is superb, the effects are utterly effective, and the nuances are note perfect.

The only problem with Stranger Things might be it becoming a victim of its own success.  So hugely popular the first season became, that the worry is a follow-up tries too hard to replicate it or tries too hard not too.  Expectations are high for Season 2, probably too high, which may lead only to disappointment and dragging down what has already come.

[read David's take ]

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