Why ‘Stranger Things’ is So Familiar

I put off watching Stranger Things even after all the positive buzz had started (and now continues). Honestly, it wasn’t my fault. My heart was ready for all the goodness that lie in wait, but it was just a scheduling thing: I couldn’t get my son and wife in front of the television set at the same time. School was looming and there were other things to do!  

But when I finally got them there, they—like me—were enthralled. 

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Stranger Things is simply awesome, especially if you’re old enough to have enjoyed The Goonies and Monster Squad when they first came out. Or if you’ve been on a steady diet of Stephen King novels since the author began writing. 

The eight-episode series has it all: Government cover-ups, monsters, mysterious goings-on, clueless adults, dysfunctional adults, eerie things that go bump in the night, smart kids who aren’t brainiacs—just kids with insatiable curiosity and working parents who can’t be there to supervise them at all times.

I couldn’t help but be appalled at all the smoking that went on inside buildings and homes, but I also remember that was how it was. During winters, my dad would light up and smoke me out of the house because I had asthma, and nobody really thought anything of it.

Another detail that caught my eye was all the wood paneling. It was everywhere. It was in houses, it was in public buildings, all of it floor to ceiling. And the floors—covered in shag carpeting!

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I felt like I’d stepped back in time or that this was an old television show. In fact, my wife—who was only halfway paying attention at the beginning because she was stuck on a game on her iPad—even asked me, “Haven’t we seen this before?”

That’s one of the beautiful things about this Netflix series: it feels so, so…familiar. You could almost work through a checklist on it.

Kids playing Dungeons & Dragons. Check. Don’t even get me started on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Kids preparing for battle with special kits they’ve already assembled. Check. (Cue memory footage of The Goonies.)

The lame romance of the girl who’s too smart for the guy who’s not really as bad-ass as he thinks he is—both of them with poofy hairdos. Check. (Cue John Hughes movies).

The bike chase against government/military forces. Check. (And we’re back to E.T.)

Telephones attached to the wall with handsets on l-o-o-n-n-g curly cords. Check. For you youngers guys, you’d just have to have lived it. (You lose a lot by not getting to twirl the cord as you marathon-talk with your friends while more or less standing in one place. After a while, you could do a lot with that cord! Cowboys with ropes were nothing!)

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I was thrilled watching the show. My wife was absorbed. And my son (who can be cynical about some of the stuff I like) was hooked on the show as well.

Winona Ryder turns in an outstanding performance as Will Byers’ mom. I remember moms in movies and in real life who were just as dysfunctional as she is on the show. David Harbour is absolutely amazing as Police Chief Jim Hopper. I grew up knowing small town cops like him everywhere. When he finally cut loose and started punching people who were lying to him, I couldn’t help but cheer him on.

We don’t get much of a look at the villain in this season. Thankfully the show has been renewed for a nine-episode second season, so maybe we’ll know more then. 

I’ve been one of those kids. Before I became an overprotective father, I was one of those untethered, live-in-my-own-mind kids who made an adventure of almost everything. Nearly got badly hurt and even killed a couple times poking around where I shouldn’t have been. I prowled through salvage yards too, even walked through the belly of a broken plane when I was younger than the kids are in the show.

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But I digress. Those kids (actors as well as characters) are amazing. They belong in Spielberg and John Carpenter films based on Stephen King books where things get creepy and spooky, and they still have enough pluck to go out and brave the unnatural elements. The Dungeons & Dragon motif warmed my heart, especially now that my youngest son plays RPGs at college. The game also played a great bit in helping the audience understand their thinking as they extrapolated on the tidbits of information they gathered and could only guess at. 

So many questions remain after season one ends, and I can’t wait to see where the guys (and hopefully Eleven) go next.

About Mel Odom: Author of dozens of novels in a wide variety of fields, Mel Odom lives in Moore, Oklahoma. His novel, The Rover, was given the American Library Association Alex Award in 2002. In 1995, after only seven years in the business, he was named to the Oklahoma Professional Writers Hall of Fame. He teaches in the Professional Writing program in Gaylord College at the University of Oklahoma. If you want to know more about Mel’s writing, check out Fantastic Fiction.

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