I love how Stranger Things is set in the 1980s, just like Ireland was in the 1990s – The Irish Times
There will only be one season left of the Duffer Brothers’ Netflix hit, Stranger Things. That’s good, because the child characters are starting to look like undercover cops and members of trendy indie bands. The brave kids from series one now have deep voices, mortgages, and Mojo magazine subscriptions.
I like strange things. I just finished watching the first half of Season 4. (The second half is coming in July.) It’s set in the town of Hawkins, Indiana, and is set in the 1980s. It’s very heartwarming to me, because when I was a kid, Ireland was also in the 1980s. It stayed in the 1980s until the 1990s, to be honest.
Like Ireland, Hawkins seems to be traditionally agrarian, but many people are employed in the mad science sector. And both jurisdictions use a “don’t ask questions” approach to foreign investment. Pharmaceuticals, computers, interference in the occult and opening a portal to hell? Whatever your industry, you can do it here with access to our top graduates and rock-bottom tax rates, say people from Hawkins and Ireland.
Stranger Things is funny and smart, well-paced and charmingly played, while also being a harbinger of the end times and an admission of creative defeat in the face of past glories.
Television and film have become increasingly retrograde over the past decade. While Stranger Things isn’t a reboot of anything, it does mix up a number of pre-existing entities. The first series merged Stephen King’s It with Steven Spielberg’s ET. The new series adds Freaks and Geeks-style school tribalism, a Nightmare on Elm Street-style supernatural teenage killer (there’s even a Robert Englund cameo), and a Cheech & Chong-style sidekick for Jonathan. Every time something like this is referenced, if you turn off your TV screen, you can see a Duffer brother winking at you.
The fact that our culture makers are now involved in an endless postmodern recycling project probably speaks to contemporary concerns about the future. “We have all the tools necessary to solve the problems of… the 1980s! say the Duffer brothers confidently. That doesn’t mean Stranger Things isn’t good, of course. It’s reliable, funny and smart, well-paced and performed with charm. It just manages to be all of those things while also being a harbinger of the end times and an admission of creative defeat in the face of past glories.
As established in previous series, Hawkins sits atop a dark dimension known as the Upside Down, which is a nightmarish vision of an infrastructural collapse filled with rampaging ghouls and lost children. It looks a lot like the United States today. And much of South Dublin. The Hawkins teens are now taking the horrid creatures that sporadically emerge from hell in their stride. While the first series was imbued with a genuine sense of dread, today that dread is heightened by anticipatory banter. Fan-favorite kid Dustin pauses before turning to the camera, shrugging and saying, “A freak in Hawkins? Here we go again!”
Eleven, the maniacal pixie dream baby, still speaks without twitching despite several years of interacting with other teenagers. We have flashbacks to his past in a government facility where the kids all have the same haircut, they are repeatedly told that they are special and can change reality with their minds. As a reader of the Irish Times, you’re probably already looking up ‘Secret facility in Stranger Things’ in our educational leaderboards and saying to yourself: this is no less than my child deserves. Be warned, though: the secret experimental facility isn’t very good. It is directed by Matthew Modine who plays snow-haired author David Lynch. Oh, and most students die.
During this season, Eleven moved to Los Angeles with Joyce Byers, aka the excellent Winona Ryder, and Joyce’s unfortunate occult children: the underutilized Will, who misses his time in hell with the shadow creatures. , which at least caught his attention, and Jonathan, who discovered the weed and becomes a bit of a shadow creature himself. Eleven also has a long-distance relationship with visiting Mike, whose personality is that he sulks and slowly turns into a member of The Strokes.
One of the characters must battle a monster whose head sporadically opens to scream and reveal a gaping maw of sharp teeth. I think I went to school with him
Meanwhile, Joyce is in a long-distance relationship with Jim Hopper (the charismatically gloomy David Harbour), who has been taken to the 1980s Soviet Union, where his Magnum PI mustache has fallen off. The Soviet Union, young people on Twitter will tell you, is a flawless socialist paradise. In all honesty, if you don’t count the hits, Hopper is housed, fed, and has a purpose (to build a railroad in the snow). On the other hand, it’s a prison and he must fight a monster whose head sporadically opens to scream and reveal a gaping maw of sharp teeth. I think I went to school with him.
Back in Hawkins, Dustin, Lucas, Robin, Max, Steve, Nancy, Erica and new character Eddie have hidden crimes to solve. Yes, there are a lot of teenagers in Stranger Things now. This is probably why a sulky corpse with tentacles invades the psyche of adolescents before levitating them, breaking all their bones and crushing their eyeballs. As a journalist, I think it’s important that we hear his side of the story. Luckily, like men on the internet, he loves nothing better than explaining his point of view to young women. In the seventh episode, he laments human society and its “invented rules, seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, each life a washed-out copy of the last. Wake up, eat, work, sleep, reproduce and die. Yes, he is paraphrasing the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil program for the government.
He also talks at length about his love for black widows, which is kind of hit or miss. I didn’t expect that we were going to get into his hobbies: “Like me, they are solitary and deeply misunderstood creatures. They are gods of our world. The most important of all predators. They are mobile and feed on the weak, bringing balance and order to an unstable ecosystem. Anyway, it also comes from the government program. It’s in the section on building a new national maternity ward.
I still really like Stranger Things. Unlike some other Netflix shows, its storytelling is really well paced, and unlike half of the Disney/Marvel properties, the stunts seem to involve real humans, not action figures and CGI hams. Meanwhile, the cast brings an old-school friendliness and warmth that you don’t get too much on TV these days. So it manages to stay lovely and fresh for four seasons, appearing to be more than the sum of its parts, even though all of those parts have things like “Property of John Carpenter: Please Don’t Touch” written all over it.