The Eighties have been falling in and out of fashion with some regularity over the past few years, but the heat currently being generated by Netflix’s Stranger Things should keep the flames of nostalgia burning brightly for a while. Set in a small, nosy, sleepy town – is there any other kind on tv? – circa 1983, it’s the story of the mysterious disappearance of one 12 year-old Will Byers, the determination of his three best friends and his mother (Eighties royalty Winona Ryder) to find him, and the sinister government programme that puts them all in danger in the first place.
A genuinely terrifying, supernatural horror homage with a warm, beating heart at its centre, Stranger Things’ main influences are Stephen King – Stand By Me and Carrie being the most obvious references – and Steven Spielberg, but there are affectionate, joyful nods to absolutely everything genre (and plenty that’s not) from that era, from Dungeons and Dragons to Star Wars, helped along by an impressively authentic soundtrack, and the most likeable, natural, wonderful group of child actors I’ve seen in years. The stand-outs for me are Gaten Matarazzo as the loyal, clever, funny, joyously intuitive and inventive Dustin, and Millie Bobby Brown as the heartbreakingly brave, tiny, damaged little superhero Eleven, but all five of the main children give tremendous performances in rounded, complicated, charming roles, more than holding their own against adults including Ryder, Matthew Modine (sporting a shock of impressively scary white hair) and the always-welcome Jim Harbour as hangdog Sheriff Jim Hopper.
By way of health warning at this point, I should say that if you can’t be doing with actual monsters as well as metaphorical ones, the show might not be for you – what happens to Will and various other people is explained but not entirely by science, if you know what I mean – and, equally, if X-Files-type scares and screams are not in your tv wheelhouse, you might not make it past the first ep. But if you’re brave enough to give it a go, you should find out pretty quickly whether Stranger Things makes you want to Moonwalk or whether you want to Safety Dance your way right out of there. For my part, it may have scared me silly, but it was worth it. I loved it.