Each year over a 100 million Americans tune in to the Super Bowl game for a few hours of relief from a disorienting world – to revel in American football, glitzy half-time performances and multi-million dollar advertisements. The Super Bowl occupies a special place in Western (and arguably, global) imaginaries, being hailed as one of the last remnants of monoculture. In our vast and rapidly changing media landscape today, you could argue the Super Bowl relies on its historical legacy, star-studded performances and overall entertainment value to survive. On an entirely different spectrum however, lies a show that instead relies on its talent, suspense and storyline to stand out.
If you haven’t already heard about the show that’s got everyone and their grandmothers chirping, then you’re about to. After premiering in 2016 as a Netflix original series, Stranger Things is set to return for a second season in 2017.
“…what I – as do many others – believe made it a pop culture phenomenon and my Netflix subscription worth it is its talented cast – particularly the children.”
Set in the 1980s fictional town of Hawkins, the first season of kicked off with the mysterious and sudden disappearance of a boy, Will Byers. Throw in a suffering-cop, single-mother, gangly group of friends and theories of a secret government agency, psychokinetic abilities and alternate dimensions and you’re good.
Amidst much speculation and mystery after leaving the fate of several characters up in the air during the season finale (how dare they?), audiences are eagerly awaiting the return of the second season whose release date has not yet been announced (again, how dare they?).
The first season of Stranger Things combined a stunningly good mix of intrigue and anticipation in its storyline, tension, well-placed soundtracks and great camera angles. But what I – as do many others – believe made it a pop culture phenomenon and my Netflix subscription worth it is its talented cast – particularly the children.
The young cast – comprising Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven), Noah Schnapp (Will), Finn Wolfhard (Mike), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin) and Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas) who were largely unknown by the general populace prior to Stranger Things, hold their own magnificently well against older and more well-known actors and actresses Winona Ryder, David Harbour and Matthew Modine.
Although 2016 saw younger and lesser known actors and actresses stepping forward into the limelight, including Ruby Barnhill who played Sophie in Roald Dalh’s BFG, and Neel Sethi as Mowgli from Jungle Book, they haven’t made quite the impact as the Stranger Things kids have who are basically the new it kids on the block.
Instead of gunning for the spotlight or coming across to more mature audiences as unrelatable, the young cast complement each other on screen, fitting together like perfectly placed jigsaw puzzle pieces and capturing millions of hearts in the process. As the series proceeds and the kids find themselves deeply embroiled in their own and external problems, directors Matt and Ross Duffer wisely choose to retain the original quirks, strengths and innocence of each character – from their firm belief in the power of the slingshot to handshakes.
This medley crew of 1 girl and 4 boys has had an undeniable influence and appeal amongst audiences. As the main leads on the show, the (more mature) audience is often presented with a child’s perspective on dealing with the intricacies of friendships, betrayal and budding romance – feelings and situations reminiscent of our youth which we’ve all but forgotten – and they seem to like it. Really like it if the popularity of the series is anything to go by.
Let us review. Besides being noted at the 2017 Golden Globes for Best Drama, the young cast was transformed into Peanuts-style cartoon characters for a three-minute-long video “A Stranger Things Christmas”. The world witnessed two pop culture worlds collide – that of Charles M.Schulz’s famous World of Peanuts and the Stranger Things cast. (Spoiler alert!) The cartoon deviates from the originals in its typical light-hearted nature to touch on Will’s traumatic experience after returning from the inter-dimensional Upside Down and his struggle to adjust back to life on our dimension.
But what’s next for Stranger Things? Is its popularity a sign of bigger and better things to come, or the rise before a fall? It has been awhile since a television show emerged that could potentially define and identify a generation. We see and know of the classics: Friends, Gilmore Girls, Sex in the City. BBC’s Sherlock appears to be on the right path, and now… Stranger Things?
Playing into the buzz, director and executive producer Shawn Levy hinted in Vanity Fair that the new season is “bigger and potentially darker” with “the threat” in Season 1 having grown. Interestingly, the young cast is growing as well, with the addition of Saddie Sink a rather unknown name at this point of time – although probably not for long.
Further teasing fans, a video announcement (that was rapped – yes rapped) by the cast at the Golden Globes contained a major plot reveal: Barb, played by Sharon Purser, who supposedly died in season one is back. Only time will tell if it is for the better or the worse.