Imagine putting “The X-Files,” “Freaks and Geeks,” “Twin Peaks,” “Super 8,” “It Follows,” and “E.T.” in one big giant blender. What comes out is Netflix’s newest original series “Stranger Things.”
In theory, a show that draws so blatantly from such iconic movies and television should feel cheap and regurgitated, but “Stranger Things” doesn’t rely on those references too heavily.
Yes, it takes place in the 1980s, characters can regularly be spotted wearing lightwash high-waisted jeans, and there’s a sequence in which people search through archives of microfiche, but “Stranger Things” smartly employs these references, never exploiting them or turning them into nostalgia porn.
Instead, the show just uses those influences to add colour and flavour to what’s otherwise a totally solid, wonderfully written thriller with amazing performances from its ensemble cast.
At the heart of the story is Will Byers, a young boy who goes missing early in the first episode after fleeing from some kind of creature in the woods near his house — he’s our equivalent of Laura Palmer, if “Twin Peaks” is a reference point for you.
This one incident spins off into multiple parallel storylines: The first centres around Will’s mother (played by Winona Ryder) who’s constantly teetering on the edge of a full-fledged mental breakdown as she attempts to sort through whether her seemingly supernatural experiences are to be fully trusted.
At the same time, we follow Will’s ragtag group of friends as they deal with losing him. Their endearing presence keeps the show light, imbuing it with a “Goonies” or “Stand By Me” quality. They use their nerdy “Dungeons and Dragons”-centric brains to try to solve the mystery of his disappearance, all the while trying to avoid school bullies and deal with the presence of a new — gasp — girl in their lives.
The show employs all the familiar tropes of its aforementioned influences, but it manages to do so with perfect balance: The nostalgic setting is perfectly counteracted by its pulsing, synthy score, and the overarching government conspiracy storylines are offset by drama between a bookish, high-school-aged girl and her romance with the school’s resident bad boy.
But to say anything more about the show’s plot would do you a disservice, because the experience of getting small bits of information from each story thread and slowly piecing them together is wonderful.
If for nothing else, watch “Stranger Things” so I can talk about it with someone. Please. All eight hour-long episodes of the series are currently streaming on Netflix.
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