We are in what is dubbed as the Golden Age of Television, yet successful horror shows are hard to find. With "American Horror Story" and "The Walking Dead" losing their bite and "Bates Motel" coming to an end, the representation of the genre was looking bleak.
Then "Stranger Things" happened (SPOILERS AHEAD).
The Netflix original is an eight-part saga that takes place in Hawkins, Indiana during the '80s with the vanishing of 12-year-old Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) after a game of "Dungeon and Dragons" with his friends Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin). Will's mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) becomes frantic in her search for her son and enlists the help Police Chief Hopper (David Harbour), who discovers a sinister government agency keeping secrets of their own. Meanwhile, during their search, Mike, Dustin and Lucas stumble across a mysterious girl in the woods named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who has telepathic powers and may be the key to destroying the dark force consuming the town.
What was so great about this nostalgic genre-bending show was that it blended horror, sci-fi, fantasy, drama and being a realistic period piece all together to form a cohesive narrative with stunning visuals to match. It's reminiscent of early Stephen King -- think a revamped version of "It" with added government conspiracy and a far less human monster. This show essentially does what "American Horror Story" has been trying to do for the past five years — use different classic elements of horror, fantasy and sci-fi to create a concept that just works.
It's not just the formation of different genres that make this "Frankenstein" of a show work, but the blended mythology of "Dungeon and Dragons" meets the MK Ultra conspiracy. Mike is a 12-year old dungeon master on the verge of completing a 10-hour campaign before the game becomes a little too real. Will's character is killed by the demo-gorgon that Mike sets upon the players, which excellently foreshadows his fate of being captured by the monster, which Eleven calls a demogorgon. Another piece of "D&D" mythology that is brought to life is The Upside Down, a dust-covered land where Will is taken to and where the monster resides. Compared to the Veil of Shadows, this alternate reality is reminiscent of the scene in "Pan's Labyrinth" when the little girl climbs through the tree to reach the frog that holds the key.
On the flip side, there is a good amount of science fiction to balance out the fantasy. Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) is an enigma. He runs the lab hidden in the forest of Hawkins and is the surrogate parent of Eleven who makes her use of telepathic abilities to spy on the Soviets, but we never learn much about the doctor besides the fact that he is responsible for releasing the demogorgon and will do everything in his power to stop it. The show exemplifies everything the modern conspiracy theorist fears: that the government in watching us, that they are performing unethical experiments behind our backs and tapping into the human mind in ways no one thinks possible.
Putting storyline aside, the acting also adds to the quality of the show. Winona Ryder makes you anxious the entire time she is on screen, her desperate attempts to save her son makes her look like a lunatic, yet there is a certain badass quality that comes with her insanity.
The kid actors outshine Ryder in every way, though. Good child actors are hard to find, and I find that bad child actors tend to ruin great shows -- take "American Horror Story: Hotel" for instance. It could have done without all those little blond vampire spawns of The Countess because they were just there for show. "Stranger Things," however, has some of the best child actors I have ever seen. They run the show from start to finish.