As I’m late to this party, as I usually am with most shows, I’m not going to dive into the nitty-gritty of the story. I doubt I’ll be adding anything that hasn’t already been said before. Instead, I’m going to list what I enjoyed about this series and what I didn’t.
WARNING - This features SPOILERS as I can’t say what I enjoyed or didn’t without mentioning certain things.
5 things I enjoyed:
The characters. I, especially, loved the kids. The young actors, all new to me, (except for Millie Bobby Brown who I’d already seen in ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’), did an outstanding job bringing them to life without any hint of overacting.
The boys were very recognisable, I knew people just like them back in the 1980s who practically lived ‘Dungeons & Dragons’. The boys – Mike, Will, Dustin and Lucas – were instantly likeable and each had their distinct personalities.
Eleven brought out my maternal instincts. I found her a very engaging character and enjoyed her attempts at fitting into life outside the lab. The tension between the friends once she appeared added an extra frisson to the story.
At first, I was worried the teenagers were going to be cliched. To be honest, initially, I wasn’t that bothered with them, except for Jonathan, Will’s older brother. I thought he was going to be the angsty ‘bad’ boy, but he genuinely cared for his younger brother and his mum, which I found a refreshing change. As the series progressed, my interest in him, Nancy and Steve grew.
The adults. I was excited to see Winona Ryder back in a meaty role. She played the part of the worried, terrified mother so well, her physical appearance deteriorating with each episode. I loved her single-minded belief that Will was alive and trying to communicate with her.
I wasn’t sure about Chief Hopper, to begin with, thinking he was going to be a cliched character too. But I was pleasantly surprised with his character arc, and there were times I was genuinely worried for his safety.
The setting. The 1980s, so cheesy yet so recognisable for someone who spent her late teen years in this era! From the clothes to the big hair to the music, I loved it even while inwardly cringing at some of the ‘looks’.
The story. I loved the mix of horror and hidden experiments being conducted under the noses of an unsuspecting public, in an innocuous small town. It reminded me of Stephen King’s stories. That the monster wasn’t revealed straightaway was another plus point. The growing suspense, waiting for the final reveal, added to the horror.
The pacing. The story was told in 8 episodes. It went straight to the meat of the story with no extraneous fluff. There were moments where you could catch your breath, but, always, in the background, there was the slow build-up of tension. Even during the ‘teen get-together by the pool when the parents are away’ scene, I found myself waiting for something to happen.
The concept of the ‘upside down’. I know it’s been done before, parallel worlds and all that. But I found this one particularly fascinating. Mirroring the real world, with the colour leeched out of everything; giving the impression that the air is thick and heavy, making moving through it treacherous… And not knowing where the exit/entry point is. Scary stuff.
Now, 5 things I didn’t like, and these are all post-Season 1:
Not ending. As with most things these days, I find after a strong first season, subsequent seasons fall flat. Despite how much I loved Eleven, I wish the show had ended with Season 1. At a push, I found Season 2 was ok. The only thing I enjoyed about it was the relationship between Hopper and Eleven; I’d have enjoyed it even more if that had been explored further.
Splitting the group. One of the things that made Season 1 so good was the boys and Eleven working together to save Will. Having Eleven go off on her own to discover more of her story messed with the pacing. As for the Chicago episode, the less said, the better.
Season 3. Why? If they needed another season because the show had proved more popular than they thought it would, end it at Season 2. The last scene, at the dance, would have made a lovely ending to the whole thing. Yes, it was nice seeing the young cast that bit older, but honestly, the pacing was all over the place. And there was no horror to the monster, only stomach-churning ickiness.
Too many groups. In Season 3, to begin with, there were 5 groups – Eleven and Max (who’d been introduced in Season 2, another girl to add to the group dynamic); Mike, Will and Lucas; Dustin, Steve and newcomer, Robin; Nancy and Jonathan; and the adults, Hopper and Joyce. Eventually, we had 3, when Eleven and Max joined forces with Mike, Will and Lucas, Nancy and Jonathan. The groups finally all got together in the last episode. One could say, that last episode was the payoff, but what a slog to get to it! Even then, there were a couple of scenes in that final episode that, again, threw the pacing off.
Hopper and Joyce. What did they do to them? From the wonderful character development in Season 1 and 2, Hopper had been reduced to a grunting child-man. And Joyce… well, it’s as if they didn’t know what to do with her. What a waste.
There’s been confirmation of a fourth season. I’ll watch it, for curiosity’s sake, but they’ll have to pull something pretty spectacular out the bag to match Season 1.