When “Stranger Things” debuted last year, it felt like a concentrated dose of 1980s film splendor. That’s one reason the Netflix series became such a phenomenon – all those nostalgic nods to Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and Stephen King.
But it wasn’t all homage. In fact, the creators, the Duffer Brothers, cleverly subverted some of the most typical tropes from movies of that era, which kept audiences guessing. Ahead of the show’s Season 2 launch today (Friday), we look back at few of the movie rules “Stranger Things” tossed out the window.
The absent-minded absentee parentsBoth in real life and onscreen, the 1980s were the era of the latchkey kids who took full advantage of their working parents’ divided attentions. Think about the harried Mrs. Walsh trusting Mouth to translate with her new helper Rosalita in “The Goonies” or Ferris Bueller’s clueless parents, whose work schedules blind them to their son’s “sick” day adventures.
In “Stranger Things,” however, Mom is the only one paying attention. Will’s mother, Joyce, played by Winona Ryder, is like a more scatterbrained Sarah Connor. She has an ax and she’s not afraid to use it. In the end, she’s the one to save the day, rescuing her son from certain death with the help of another grieving parent, Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour).
The snobby jerk of a boyfriendIf John Hughes taught us anything, it’s that the sweet social outcast deserves to be with their much more popular beloved. Said love interest is always already taken, of course, which means step one is unveiling the current partner’s many flaws.
Steve seems like one of those guys, and if we were playing by 1980s Movie Rules, Nancy would ditch him for Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), the sensitive guy who’s been pining for her. But she doesn’t – and that’s actually OK because Steve isn’t the typical one-note bad-boy. He ends up proving himself, admitting he made mistakes and ditching his rude in-crowd friends. He even wears a supremely goofy Christmas sweater, reminding us that, deep down, we’re all just dorks anyway.
The plot-driving alienThe purpose of a mysterious otherworldly creature is usually to send some human character on a journey, such as Elliott in “E.T.” or Billy in “Gremlins.” Rarely do these alien beings have much of an interior life. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) appears at first to be nothing more than a tool, a way for Will’s friends to find out what happened to their missing buddy. She also uses her special powers to help their search, plus humiliate a bully or two along the way.
But as the story goes on, Eleven has her own arc and her own dark backstory, which is more compelling and tragic than that of any other character. Just as she refuses to be used as a machine in Hawkins Lab, she also forces us to see her as more than simply a telekinetic plot driver.