In truth, there are a lot of reasons, and even as a word-loving person I find it hard to express how I feel about this show, what it does to me both as a person and as an artist. But when a piece of art can move you so unexpectedly, it’s worth it to explore why.
Unexpected. That is the first word I would attribute to this Netflix series. But I think first it’s important to acknowledge that we all approach a new film or show in different ways. We come in the midst of our current life events, we bring our pre-opinions, our expectations, and a whole horde of things we like and dislike. We come to be entertained or to cry, to be moved or to escape. We come to be inspired to make great art or we come to connect with a character. I’m setting up what I’m going to say with this, because in the world of art critiquing, I think it’s wise to remember our differences. Your opinion is not worse or better than mine, because we have varying experiences in our lives and diverse ways of seeing the world, and we are simply never going to be exactly the same.
With that in mind, I want to tell you the first reason I was blown away by Stranger Things, from the moment I caved and finally gave episode one a try. I came in already quite critical and doubtful. I didn’t doubt that it was going to be good art and a great story, but I doubted I would enjoy it. I have never liked horror and I rarely get into things that are that dark in nature. I didn’t even know if I’d be able to handle the scariness or the intensity. I also feel strongly about the role of good characters. If the characters don’t have an excellent arc, and if I can’t emotionally connect with them, I don’t generally enjoy the story even if visual effects and other aspects are stunningly executed. So if Stranger Things was going to be all about the “jump factor” or the creepy monsters, I wasn’t going to get through it.
But here I am at the end of season three, still reeling in a good way from the emotional roller coaster it put me through. I didn’t want to hop off that ride until the last bit. It kept me up past my “old lady” bedtime, and when it comes to stories, that is always a good sign. They did it! This show made me fall in love with a genre I had many previous reservations about, and to me, that says a lot.
A good story is driven by great characters, and here I come back to the word “unexpected.” I absolutely love it when a character that I expected to dislike from his or her introduction can, over the course of the plot, become a character I have great empathy for, someone I root for, even if I can’t relate in every way. See, there are certain characters, like the group of kids from this series, that you pretty much applaud from the beginning. They’re likable, funny, sometimes sweet and just want to make sure their friend gets back from the upside down. You expect to like them throughout the whole series. Then there are the characters that appear on screen with their egos fully intact, the bullies, those who belittle others, the “rough-around-the-edges” types like Detective Hopper, or the misunderstood, isolated types like Jonathan, who you maybe aren’t sure what to think of yet.
I love almost all of the characters in Stranger Things and was pleased by their journeys, despite all the mistakes they made in the course of things. But I especially loved Steve and Billy. These were two characters arcs I didn’t expect. I certainly never thought I’d be rooting for Billy by the end of season three. Stuck up, douche-bag Billy who hated on his little sister and took advantage of women.
I was quite surprised by what the character of Billy did to my heart, and by the end I was devastated for him because I really wanted him to get a chance to turn his life around. He had so much potential to become a better person.
I love the redemptive aspects of this series. There is a lot of darkness and violence, which can be questionable for some, and then there’s the suspense, which keeps you “turning the pages,” and yet ultimately it became about family. About loyalty and forgiveness. About loss and second chances. And about how one little girl from Utah saves the world. 😉 (Talk about unexpected.)
It goes without mentioning that the 80’s throwbacks, the music and cinematography, and the special effects were remarkably implemented. All of these aspects, along with the humor and the top-notch acting, composed a thoroughly engrossing and enjoyable series. Combine that with the well-crafted plot and the heart-shattering character arcs and you have a pretty darn great piece of art. Oh, and don’t even get me started on Hopper’s perfect, tragic end in the speech he wrote for Eleven. I love how the writers intentionally dig past the surface of these raw characters to get to the heart of them. I will tell you as a writer that is not an easy feat, but it’s something I aspire to do well with my own characters.
Lastly, I just want to give a shout out to the Duffer Brothers and the other masterminds behind the show. Stranger Things is well-loved, but it has also received a lot of flack, especially this newest season. Every piece of art that is put out into the world is going to get its share of criticism. As artists, it’s impossible to please every recipient. I personally don’t think that the Duffers needed to do anything differently. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but could it ever be? If they did something in another way, if they changed the plot at all, it still would have received harsh feedback. I think these guys did the best they could with what they had. They worked hard and poured their skill, their hearts, and their souls into the project, and in my opinion, the result was stunning in many regards. So props, Duffers!
And artists, never, ever give up or compromise or think that your art isn’t worthy. You have a voice and you have an audience, somewhere. Your melody will find the ears it was meant to reach. And sometimes, it’s the ears themselves that need to give your music a chance.
Come on, blow us away.
That is all.
Opinionated artist out. 😉