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Monday, July 04, 2022

Stranger Things and me

On July 1st I was having a severe headache, that had persisted since the night before.  I went home early from work and took some medicine and quietly prayed that I would be feeling better soon.  Because I did not want to miss volume two of the fourth season of Stranger Things on the day that it had dropped onto Netflix.

I haven't written nearly enough about Stranger Things on this blog.  Actually, I don't think I've written about it at all.  When this is a series that for the past six years has absolutely arrested me whenever a new season has been released.  The first part of this latest season premiered on the same day as Disney+'s Obi-Wan Kenobi and having seen both of them in their entirety now, there is no question as to which is the superior show... and I say that being a hopeless lifelong Star Wars fanatic.

So, about Stranger Things.  This show debuted in the summer of 2016, when Tammy (my dog) and I were journeying across America looking for a new home.  We were in Albuquerque, New Mexico when I finally decided to see what the big to-do about this show was about.  So one morning after taking Tammy out for a walk around the hotel (where she had become a big celebrity, they let her run up and down the hallways to her heart's content) I showered and shaved and put on clean clothes and then pulled out my iPad Pro and curled up on the bed and began watching the first episode, "The Vanishing of Will Byers".

My friends, it is RARE that any television series sucks me hard in from the start.  I can probably number them on one hand: Twin Peaks, Lost, maybe a few others.  Stranger Things had them all beat, with even fewer episodes.  After witnessing the death and destruction going on inside Hawkins Laboratory and the title credits (which I will never fast forward past, not for this show) the episode cuts to the basement of Mike Wheeler, whose friends are engaged in an hours-long Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

That's what did it.  That's what hooked and reeled me in.

This is a series about "my kind" of people.  I grew up in the Nineteen Eighties also, just as Mike and Will and Lucas and Dustin are in Stranger Things.  I "get" them and the world they inhabit.  This show has captured and conveyed that perfectlyStranger Things is a homage, a love letter, a monument to all that made the Eighties so amazing.  Ronald Reagan was President of the United States.  Vietnam wasn't long ago at all and our country was locked in cold war with Russia.  Comic books were mostly read, not adapted into blockbuster movies at the drop of a hat.  We listened to Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper and Devo and Eurythmics.  On television He-Man was constantly outsmarting Skeletor and Mr. T was shouting "Suckal!" on The A-Team.  We quoted from movies like Star Trek II and we speculated about Star Wars Episode One which was probably just three years away.  And kids still did things like ride their bikes to their friend's house and hang out for hours after school before the phone rang and it was Mom telling you to come home for dinner.

We were young people who lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation at any time and chose to make the most of the moments we were given.  I think that when The Day After aired in the fall of 1983, it drove the point home that much more.  It made us cling ever more so to that fleeting sense of childhood.  And now, forty years later, I think many of us are still clinging to it.  There isn't going to be quite the same reminiscing about the Nineties or the Aughts as there is now about the Reagan years.  In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and I think we all knew that the Iron Curtain's days were numbered.  It was the sheer weight of the Eighties come smashing against that bulwark of the old ways.  If only that same spirit could still prevail against people like Putin who seem determined to restore the Soviet Union to it's former borders.  But, I digress...

Back to Stranger Things.  I had watched the first two episodes and then came the only interruption that day was when housekeeping came around about eleven.  I picked up Tammy and we went and got lunch and went for a quick walk and came back to our room.  And I binged the HECK out of the rest of that season.  It is VERY seldom that I binge watch anything... but I kept having to see "what happens next?!?"  At last we came to the Byers house at Christmas, watching this family that had endured so much over the past month... before shrieking anew at the sight of that thing from the Upside-Down coming out of Will's mouth.

Albuquerque did many things to me, in the five weeks that I was there.  Leaving town as a new fan of Stranger Things is one of them.  I don't lend my fanship to many things from pop culture.  But Stranger Things more than earned it.  And when we hit the road again the first season soundtrack was playing loud from my car's stereo.  It was as good as anything to listen to as we set out again across the New Mexico desert.

Season two came a little over a year later, and we were in decidedly different environs: living for awhile with friends in South Carolina.  It hadn't been the ending of our traipsing across America that I had originally intended.  But for the situation, it sufficed and even bore some fruit that I had not imagined.  Once again, I binged Stranger Things on my iPad Pro, pausing only to take Tammy out.  Season two ended well, but lacked the "bang" that I was expecting.  It did have a resolution that I was happy with though, especially Mike and Eleven dancing at the Snow Ball.

Season three... ahhh yes.  July of 2019.  Months before "the plague" hit and stopped everything in its tracks.  Who could have guessed that this would be the last Stranger Things that we would get for another three years?  "Not I, said the dog."  Speaking of which, by this point Tammy had become WELL trained to use the pee pads I set down for her.  So there was very little interruption while binging season three.  I started at about eleven and finished with "The Battle of Starcourt" around 8 and by that time was wiped out.  What a rush!  And not for the first time I thought that the show had perfectly captured the Eighties.  We really did use to hang out in shopping malls, ya know.  Most of them didn't have Soviets tunneling beneath them though, thankfully.

And that was all until May of this year, when I watched the entire series again, only now taking time to pause every so often and tend to other things.  I wanted the show to have room to "percolate" in my mind, instead of assaulting the senses full-blast.  By the time season four premiered I was refreshed and ready for the new episodes.  I took half a day off from work so that I could get home and started watching the next season... which is something I have not done at all for the Star Wars series on Disney+ and likely never would either.  Season four was split into two "volumes" by Netflix, because the last two episodes are so long.  After finishing volume one's "The Massacre at Hawkins Lab" I just sat there stunned and dazed.  And all I could think of was "how are they going to top THAT??"

Well, the last two episodes of the season came out three days ago.  I took a few hours break between them.  And it dropped my jaw hard on the floor too many times than could be counted.  And then came those final minutes, as Stranger Things theme music began then developed into a full instrumental composition, as our heroes see what's falling around them...

Yowza!  Season three had cliffhangers.  Season four has everyone dangling from that cliff by their fingernails.  It was eight hours before I could fall to sleep.  No episode of television since Lost's "Through the Looking Glass" has had that kind of effect on me.

So now we're awaiting the fifth and final season of Stranger Things.  I am hoping and praying that there will be a panel for the show at this year's Comic-Con, and that they'll announce production of the new season beginning soon after.  But I will trust them to get it right.  The Duffer Brothers, the creators of Stranger Things, have done all right so far.  They have given us what is perhaps the best written and finest acted television series currently in production.  I can wait.  Even if it's another two years, by which time I'll be fifty.

Which seems the perfect time to enjoy a series about the years when many of us came of age.


BennyMAGA82 said...

Greatest. Series. Ever.

Have you bought the soundtrack album with the songs? Yes it has "Running Up That HIll" by Kate Bush. :)

Chris Knight said...

Waited until this past week to get the albums because I figured there'd be "deluxe" releases including the music from the last two episodes. Turns out that I wasn't wrong. It's so neat how so much music from "my generation" is getting discovered for the first time by the younger crowd. Kate Bush is making MILLIONS from streams of "Running Up That Hill" and Metallica is raving about Eddie playing their "Master of Puppets".

What a time to be alive! :-)