Review: Why ‘Stranger Things’ is the show you should binge-watch

Show revolves around three kids who strongly believe in every character from Dungeons and Dragons. PHOTO: FILE

Show revolves around three kids who strongly believe in every character from Dungeons and Dragons. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: The last time I was this as hopeful about the future of television was when I ‘binge-watched’ The Wire. Or to be honest, in whatever way a dense series like The Wire can be binge-watched. It relies heavily on the audience’s participation to solve the puzzle, so a lot of times, the viewer of the ‘binge-watch’ era can just get drained watching it and opt for some fast-food instead – the Houses and the Dexters, I mean.

But the cathartic experience The Wire offered was ruthless; it shook me to the core without killing my sense of anticipation. If there’s any show where you’ll find the ideal combination of quality writing and a deep understanding of the human condition, this has to be it.

The Wire is easily the best show to come out during the new-age of popular television. It ended in 2008 and with it, all our hope of a better tomorrow. TV continued its obsession with the Sherlock formula and if that’d become very boring, you either had the epic strategy of stretching stories across kingdoms or the good-old comfort zone of twisted protagonists fighting their backstories in flashbacks. Sigh.

But stranger things do happen and they did. The Duffer Brothers mystery drama is bound to get you excited about television again and it does so with surprising simplicity and shocking attention-to-detail. The story about three kids who strongly believe in every character of the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game takes you back to the 80’s.  An odd one of the three friends disappears while on his way back home and this opens a strange and unfulfilling chapter in the Hawkins neighbourhood in Indiana, and in the life of Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour)

As much as the show is an homage to 80’s pop culture, it actually borrows from a defining moment in television history: David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990). The crime drama was garnished with a heavy topping of surrealism, to rightly become the mother ship from which classics like The X Files took birth.  Herein, Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) comes to the town of Twin Peaks to investigate the murder of a teenager Laura Palmer.

How much Stranger Things borrows from Twin Peaks is an important question but in times of rapid exposition and easy-consumption television, borrowing was necessary. Someone had to bring television back to its true glory, where binging is always the intention but not always possible. Stranger Things, however, has a major shift of perspective as it unveils the mystery through the eyes of school-going children who believe that a Demi Gorgon is behind all the mess. They get support from their science teacher, who leaves no opportunity to impart Carl Sagan’s skepticism to the boys.

The vast difference in how the children look at the problem and how adults do, creates a fascinating parallel of sorts. The disparity of opinions and approach does not only add layers to the growing suspense but also triggers a mental debate in the viewer’s mind, whether you’d want to vouch for what makes more sense or for boundless curiosity.

This disparity, coupled with the simplicity of the plot and a haunting score (of course not as brilliant as Twin Peaks’) is what makes genre-bending quite easy in Stranger Things. The Duffer brothers transition between science fiction and melodrama quite effortlessly, making it a must watch for both drama fans and geeks.

On the performance front, the show has enough in store. Both Harbour and Winona Ryder – who plays the character of Joyece Byers – give one of the best performances on TV of late. They are looking for closure when both sanity and the sane have closed their doors on them, but their resolve to prove the strange makes you bleed with emotions. At the same time, Harbour’s uncanny resemblance to Jack Nicholson and the surrounding woods take you to Kubrick’s The Shining for a moment.

As a whole, Stranger Things is a blessing from another dimension. We need such shows more than we need the finale of Game of Thrones. The Duffer Brothers have succeeded in making science easy while restoring our faith in the Demi Gorgons. Yes, the two do go together in Stranger Things.

Verdict: Duffer brothers effortlessly transition between science fiction and melodrama, making it a must-watch for both binge-watchers and geeks

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