Stranger Things, a recent mini-series to hit Netflix, is a stirring exploration of small-town politics and community, coming of age, friendships and love, and, of course, the supernatural. It starts off with a group of boys playing the game Dungeons and Dragons in their den in the basement, the contents of which becomes spectacularly paralleled in the real world. I’m already excited about the various theories emerging from one of the very last scenes (I’m avoiding spoilers throughout this post) where the boys discuss Dungeons and Dragons once again.
The show quickly had me reminiscing and thinking about other, similarly-minded shows and movies, such as Twin Peaks or The Shining, which have the same spooky but deeply compelling allure. Events start slow and the viewers’ skepticism starts high, but gradually the show hooks you in. I remember vividly how I reached the ending of episode 6 and then 7, thinking about how at the beginning of the series I had only watched one episode in an evening, and finding myself unable to pull myself away until the series reached its incredible conclusion. The tropes this series uses also seem drawn from films from the 80s, mixed in with sometimes direct references to those movies. These tropes are rarely deployed in a straightforward way, either, and an example of this is an inversion of the flying-bike scene from E.T. Here is a list of some of the tropes identified in Stranger Things, but beware, this list will suck away hours of your free time. In addition, here is a Rolling Stone laundry list of 80’s cultural references in the series (w/autoplay video)
In my exploration of the various articles and fan theories already proliferating, a curiosity I quickly noted was how much sympathy and affection exists online for the character Barb. Barb is the close friend of Nancy, and as Nancy finds herself drawn into an intense high school romance, Barb can see it all happening too clearly. She tries to get Nancy come to her senses, but can only stand by in the end. The scene most symbolic of this is when Barb sits alone on the diving board, as the rest of the party has moved inside, staring down into the steaming, brightly lit water.
I certainly enjoyed seeing the events in this particular storyline include the perspective of Barb, instead of leaving her behind as Nancy does, but I don’t think that this is anything particularly groundbreaking for the show to do this – in fact I think its a fairly common trope for media – as “the one left out” is an easy way to quickly form sympathy points for a character. A fuller exploration into why Barb becomes such a fan favorite necessitates some significant spoilers, which I am avoiding, so I’ll just say that even considering the full events of the series, in my opinion there are many characters far more compelling, interesting, and just as worthy of sympathy as Barb. A quick list of these characters would be Benny Hammond (the owner of the diner that Eleven visits), Eleven herself, Lucas and Dustin, and then Sheriff Hopper. The last four in this list are who I would consider my favorite characters, and a distinction just came up for me. Barb and Benny both are flat, one-dimensional characters, although Barb certainly has a bit more screen time. She is fairly developed and present in the series, despite being one-sided in this way as the ‘voice of reason’ friend to Nancy, and perhaps that very simplicity in character development is why more people find it easy to identify with her. Benny, on the other hand, exists just to serve as character development for Eleven, and then as plot development as the ‘child services’ arrive. On that note too, Eleven, Dustin, Lucas, and Hopper are all complex characters, and so it isn’t really fair to compare them to a character like Barb.
Like many, I’m already very excited about the prospects of additional seasons of Stranger Things, as well as the impending release of the soundtrack for the series.