30 Pilots in 30 Days: Stranger Things

Had I seen it before: Yes, I’ve seen the whole series.

What IMDb says: When a young boy disappears, his mother, a police chief, and his friends must confront terrifying forces in order to get him back.

Why I picked it: I picked it because the rest of ya’all seem to really like it. Like, really really like it.

In addition, Stranger Things is pretty much the first majorly successful Netflix original that isn’t based on a book, another tv show, a movie, etc. It’s an original pilot in the strictest senses of the word. Most people who want to be tv writers want this. We don’t long to adapt someone else’s successful book. We long to bring our own vision to the screen and we long for it to be as well received as Stranger Things.

I also want to mention that this is one of the few shows I’m featuring that I’ve already seen in full. While I understood its charm, it never impressed me quite the same way it seemed to impress other people, in part because I felt confused about the mythology of the Stranger Things universe. So it should be fun to go back to the pilot and see if there was anything I missed.

What I liked: They did a great job of making this feel like it was actually made in the ’80s rather than a modern show set in the ’80s. I think this is one of the main reasons it appealed to so many people.

The dynamic between Dustin, Mike, and Lucas is wonderful too. If you want to do a good job of quickly establishing that a group is incredibly close without having them say shit like “I’m so glad we’re best friends” or something like that, watch the Stranger Things pilot. The first dungeons and dragons scene is not only enough to tell us how close this squad is, but we also learn their roles within the group. Mike is the dungeonmaster, and that’s not an accident. He’s the leader of this group. Dustin is the voice of reason that sometimes borders on cowardice. Lucas is the one with a sense of adventure. Will is the nice guy who doesn’t mind taking one for the team. Throughout the pilot we see these guys bicker with each other and we understand that they have different personalities that will sometimes come in conflict, but we never doubt the strength of their friendship. Kinda like the Sex in the City girls, but likable.

As much as it also pains me to admit it, on second watch I can admit that Steve Harrington is also well-written and well-acted. He’s a douchebag and the audience understands he’s a douchebag. But he’s also just charming enough that we don’t hate Nancy for liking him. We see how flashing his eyes and making a cute joke would be enough to make Nancy put up with him. This is difficult to do, because you can only make a love interest so douchey before it starts to reflect poorly on the person who likes them. So fuck Steve Harrington the character*, but kudos to the writers and Joe Keery for pulling this off.

What I didn’t like: Stranger Things is one of those shows where when I’m in the moment watching it, I’m like “yeah, this is entertaining me” but when I take a step back to reflect I can’t help but think “wait was that actually good? What even happened that was interesting?”

While character development is the strength of this pilot, I feel like relatively little actually happens in it. Will goes missing. There’s a mysterious girl with a buzzcut in the woods. Beyond that, the story doesn’t really go anywhere.

Oh and that douchebag Steve Harrington wants to screw Nancy, but honestly that plotline seems kinda uninteresting compared to the other two and probably gets more screentime than it really deserves.

In some ways, it feels like a really well-told ghost story but the person telling the story still hasn’t thought of the end yet. While it’s certainly alright to leave some questions unanswered especially given the genre, Stranger Things is so generic with their mystery elements you kinda feel like the writers are formulating the idea as they go. It’s like “So there’s this mysterious facility… that’s doing something… and there’s this girl. Mysterious things were happening to her at the mysterious facility. . . mysteriously.”

Compare that to something like WestworldIt’s a mystery, but it’s a mystery about a fake western world controlled by science geniuses so that tourists can have an ultra realistic VR experience. Even though we still have plenty of questions at the end of that pilot, we at least feel like the person telling us the story knows the answer to those questions. Not so much with Stranger Things. 

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: As mentioned twice already, I’ve seen all of Season 1, but I will say that I have every intention of watching Season 2 when it comes out.

*Please note that I wrote this when Season 1 was all that existed. I would never say this about Season 2-3 Steve Harrington, who is arguably the best thing the show has going for it now.


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