Clover It - 1.) Stranger Things and playing with viewers' expectations

Hello, I’m Coryssa Clover! Welcome to Clover It, the series in which I review a popular piece of media and determine whether it lives up to the hype or I’m totally over it. To start off, I’m talking about one of the most critically-acclaimed shows of 2016, Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Stranger Things is a sci-fi/drama written and directed by Matt and Ross Duffer. The show takes place in the small fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana and follows a supernatural mystery after a boy named Will gets taken by a monster called the Demogorgon. After their friend Will goes missing a group of kids try to solve his disappearance, eventually delving further into the secrets of Hawkins and discovering the mysterious “Upside-Down”. The narrative focuses on three different groups and their separate efforts to find Will.

One of the best aspects of  Stranger Things is the interaction between characters. Hawkins feels like a town that could actually exist outside the context of the story, with the treatment of individuals being directly linked to things they’ve done in the past. But what makes this show truly memorable is the way that it uses viewer’s expectations to surprise them. Being inspired by 80’s classics, certain things have almost become unanimous with movies from that era- the guy gets the girl, character’s actions are completely black and white, and any adults are completely useless in helping the protagonist. Multiple times throughout the show, tropes like these are challenged and contradicted. Is the idea of all “popular” kids being bullies realistic? Are a few kids really that equipped to take on something as scary as the supernatural? Stranger Things deconstructs narratives like this and more.

The most obvious example of how this show deconstructs traditional sci-fi and adventure films is the relationship between Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Eleven. No one in the group immediately trusts Eleven and in turn she doesn’t start to rely on them until much later on. Eleven is not a companion simply there to help the boys find Will, she has her own story and experiences that affect how quick she is to trust others. After coming to terms with the fact that Eleven’s powers aren’t magic and that there’s a real chance Will is dead, the group reacts as you’d expect- they’re heartbroken and mourn the loss of their friend. It takes acknowledging that Eleven is human for the group to make any headway toward finding Will. Even then, it takes the efforts of Jonathan, Nancy, and two adults to save him.

High school dynamics in pop culture is also a topic that Stranger Things plays with. Nancy Wheeler is a character who represents the typical teenage girl archetype. Her boyfriend Steve is popular at school, and at first their relationship seems like the all too typical cautionary tale of why you shouldn’t change yourself to fit in. Jonathan Byers, Will’s older brother, is also in high school and considered weird by the other people in his grade. Nancy and Steve’s relationship quickly sours after Nancy starts to spend more time with Jonathan while searching for Will. Steve actually feels remorseful, faces consequences for his action and has to earn back Nancy’s respect. While Nancy quickly stops associating with most of the “popular” kids after this, unlike in most shows, she denounces the idea that she’s acting differently to be cool; Nancy genuinely enjoys spending time with Steve.

Overall, Stranger Things’ ability to build believable characters makes it worthy of all the hype surrounding it. No show is perfect, but somehow this one managed to both deconstruct and reshape the future of sci-fi. The focus on developing plot lines over the course of  the show and not immediately giving into viewer’s expectations makes Stranger Things a refreshing throwback to the classics that inspired it.

Hello, I'm Coryssa Clover! I'm a sophomore at Greater Johnstown High School.

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