Netflix sci-fi series draws wide audience with outlandish plot, characters

Netflix has recently perfected the art of television binge-watching with its full-season original series releases. The popularity of “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black”—and Netflix users’ growing desire to defy physics and watch a complete series in seemingly less time than scientifically possible—have set a precedent for the streaming format. Netflix succeeds in fulfilling our binging expectations once again with its summer release of the science fiction drama “Stranger Things.” “Stranger Things,” created by brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, came at an impeccable moment. Current pop culture is nostalgic about older cult classics—seen through the recent and upcoming revivals of 90s series “The X-Files” and “Twin Peaks.” The Duffers’ series fits right in among the aesthetics of these shows with its convincing 80s setting, mood and fashion. It creates the perfect balance between retro staging and details and modern cinematic trends.

“Stranger Things” focuses on a supernatural mystery in a small, rural Indiana town. A young boy named Will—portrayed by Noah Schnapp—seems to disappear out of thin air and his imaginative young friends work together to find him. Will’s mother Joyce—played by the iconic Winona Ryder—also teams up with David Harbour’s pessimistic police chief Jim Hopper to uncover the secrets—and the ominous creature—responsible for Will’s disappearance.

The secrets behind Will’s disappearance span across dimensions and reality, and introduce the mysterious character Eleven, a child-slash-lab experiment portrayed by Millie Bobby Brown. A favorite among the show’s fans, Eleven brings drama, action and occasional comic relief to the show through her friendship with the young boys. Bobby Brown, in addition to Mike, Dustin and Lucas—portrayed by Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin respectively—are great, young frontrunners and bring impressive charisma and life to the dull, eerie setting of Hawkins, Indiana.

While the talented young cast is a highlight of the show, the writing of the female characters yields mixed emotions. While some critics disliked Ryder’s dramatic portrayal of an emotional and persistent mother, it seems she skillfully performed the disappointing characterization she was given by the show’s writers.

Joyce fits the stereotype of a hysterical mother shunned by her community until a powerful man, Chief Hopper, validates her feelings and earns some credit for it. The audience is left feeling that Joyce deserves more recognition for her contribution of discovering the central mystery instead of being somewhat overshadowed by Hopper.

In another plotline, Will’s brother Jonathan—portrayed by Charlie Heaton—and Mike’s sister Nancy—portrayed by Natalia Dyer—form another team determined to face the strange, unknown things lurking in their hometown. The audience is given a first impression of Nancy as a seemingly stereotypical popular and pretty girl, but she proves to be clever and badass in the face of unbelievable danger.

It is disappointing then that her relationship with her boring and slightly annoying boyfriend Steve—portrayed by Joe Keery—is what the series’ writers continually remind us about in unnecessary and often eye-rolling moments—and in other moments, her suggestive relationship with Jonathan. Furthermore, Nancy’s friend Barbara—an unexpected fan favorite portrayed by Shannon Purser—is more of a disposable plot detail than a real person.

“Stranger Things” satisfies a craving for a smart and entertaining thriller among the often kitschy and repetitive science fiction genre. I plan to re-watch the first season multiple times to discover clues and debunk conspiracy theories, and I highly anticipate another binge-watching session when the second season is released next year.