See I did It again. I am so good at this.
I’m going to out myself right now, I didn’t watch all the way through this show. In fact, I didn’t even make it through the second episode. Because of that, I am forced to admit that there may be things I am missing about this show.
But I don’t care, because the Duffer Bros new Netflix show, Stranger Things, is like watching paint dry in the rain. Ignoring the weird metaphor, it’s futile and boring.
I am such a sucker for a good premise, and sometimes, I hate it. Because it puts me in these situations where I get stuck watching something I have high hopes for that gets dashed because it’s not executed to my standards. And although I’m a pretty harsh critic on this blog, I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to the media I consume. All it has to do is be interesting. Whether it’s fun, mysterious, invigorating, or scary, the most important thing is that it inspires me. Or entertains me. Holds onto my interest.
That’s not too hard, I was the one that admitted I dug Man of Steel the first time I watched it. Because even though it was kind of a crappy movie, at least it was interesting in its crap. It had a point and the characters felt like something. Maybe not good things, but something.
I’m sorry, I’m supposed to be talking about the premise.
Stranger Things is about a lot of things. A small town in Indiana is host to some kind of secret laboratory in which some kind of terrible electricity mutant escapes. From the same laboratory, a mysterious girl named Eleven also emerges with psychic powers. A group of kids lose one of their own, presumably to the creature, who disappears without a trace, and the town has to figure out the mystery in order to find the kid.
That’s not the worst premise ever. It’s not something ground breaking, but it could lead to some interesting places if the show makers are daring enough. Thus I added it to My List and waited to see.
Did it deliver? Have you been reading since the beginning?
After watching an episode and a half, I angrily proclaimed to my iPad, where I was watching it, that the show was dumb. Yet, it took me a little bit to figure out why I thought it was dumb. Something was bothering me, and it took me a little while to put my finger on it. Because the answer is subtle.
See, there’s something I’ve come to realize about horror and suspense. First off, characters need to make poor choices. It’s really hard to make something scary when characters know exactly how to act when shit hits the fan. You want them to sweat a little so that you sweat. Stranger Things does that pretty well, or as good as any show with a similar budget could manage.
But the other thing that I have discovered, that’s very necessary to shows like this, is endearing characters. You have to either like or at least identify with the characters for there to be any stakes. And thus we come to the problem with Stranger Things.
None of the characters are likable. They desire nothing outside the present moment, which is kind of beautiful in a Buddhist kind of way, but it doesn’t make a great story. Because it means that the show’s creators care more about the mystery and the setting than creating characters to move about in the world they made. When things feel right with the setting, like the older looking TVs and cars from the 80s, the characters feel stilted and stiff, saying lines that mean nothing other than words coming out of a character’s mouth.
The creators think witty dialogue is written when characters say witty things. But characters also need to have a goal, or something that defines them outside just what happens to them directly from other characters. There is not a single character that desires anything. The daughter wants to have good grades. Her boyfriend wants to get in her pants (and is pretty rapey about it). The kids just want to play D&D. The parents want their kids to do well in school, or something. The cop wants to do anything but talk about his very dead daughter to avoid showing all of his manly pain.
You can easily tell what the creators’ favorite movies are, just by watching the first bit of the show. The really enjoyed E.T., Signs, some B creature horror movies, and Carrie. And there you go. All of the inspiration for the show is right there, and every character feels like they pulled straight from the script of one of those movies because they lack anything to set them apart from those characters. Does the daughter want to go to college? Who the fuck cares, she’s too busy cock teasing her disgusting pig of a boyfriend because she likes the attention. What about the layabout cop with nothing going for him? Does he want to make something of his life? Fuck no, he just wants to live in his shitty trailer and sleep with the door unlocked and drink his problems away because his daughter died. And rather than portraying him being self destructive or other kinds of crappy behavior in a negative light, he just has a dead daughter for the soul purpose of being sad and cynical when it suits him and then the other characters get to say. “Don’t be hard on him. His daughter died, didn’t you know? Really he’s very emotional inside his thick outer carapace but you’ll never see that side of him. See previous statement about thick outer alien carapace.”
And on a progressive note, there is literally one POC for the whole show so far. I’m sorry, but we’re representative in this household, and all of these white hetero people is really boring to me. It’s the 80’s, and we’re doing a throwback to old suspense movies, I guess, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t update a few things. Maybe add one more POC besides the token black kid’ whose only character trait is that he swears a lot. You can do better than that, honestly. If I can’t identify with any of the characters, and I’m white, how are POCs supposed to relate to any of these problems? That’s a bad sign.
So if the characters are really bad, there must be something good about this show, right? Otherwise they would have made it.
I don’t really respect them taking a bunch of time to make the setting feeble natural or whatever because it’s used as an excuse for the characters to get away with weird shit. The show is set right on the cusp of the digital age. No damn kids on their cellphones here, and no internet trolls clogging up message boards with puke inducing viral hate. Nope, this is a simpler time, where men were men and women were in the kitchen and children did what they were told and Reagan was President and is anyone else getting emotional here or is it just me? Kids sneak out of their houses apparently all the friggin time and no one seems to care because it’s the 80s and “Those darn kids always getting into trouble. Little scamps.” So they get away with absurd amounts of freedom, and then when one goes missing everyone freaks the Hell out, but way too much to be appropriate. Or at least in a way that doesn’t feel real. And it had to be the way because the future has GPS, helicopters with cameras so high def they can pick out water droplets as they accumulate into clouds, and amber alerts that literally tell everyone in the continental US when a kid is missing for more than a few hours. It all feels very contrived, lacking any kind of soul.
Keep in mind, I’m an advocate for kids having freedom and exploring their world. But letting your kids bike by themselves at night down a dark country road is a little much for my taste. Having zero idea of the numerous times that every kid sneaks out of the house is also contrived. Those houses would have been built in the 70s, and each step would sound like the sound effect for the creepy door opening on a haunted house. Yet no one knows that the kids bounce on them? Even when they’re downstairs or right next door? Seriously? Does anyone watch their kids in this show? How is this the first time this has happened?
Granted, I can glimpse the vision. The Duffer Bros wanted their own Spielberg style film with kids finding weird things and being the spokesperson of said weird thing to a scared community and “Jeez honey, maybe we should have listened to the kids after all. How could we have been so foolish.” It’s hokey, poorly written, and just dumb.
This show is friggin dumb.
I’m being serious. I know you read all of what I just said, or skipped here because you didn’t really care about my rant above, and that’s fine. So I’m telling you, watch it yourself and come back and tell me what you thought. Because I’ve seen a lot of people describing the show as some kind of TV tour-de-force, likes it should have been a movie because it’s that good and the cinematography is good and that the characters are really interesting, and I’m convinced we’re not watching the same show. Watch the first two episodes, long enough to see some of the really awful drama play out, and then come back here and reveal your thoughts. I think it’s not worth anyone’s time, but someone has to like it in order to say those things, and I’m curious who those people are.
Just see for yourself.