Bingeing While Black: Stranger Things

strangerthingsposter_zpsblbcdx4pNumber of episodes: 8

Average episode length: ~50 minutes.

Length of binge: 1 day

I was going to say that an entire season in one sitting is a record for me, but I remember Games of Thrones‘ first season recuperating from my wisdom teeth removal.

Unlike then, this binge was not the product of incarceration, nor one borne of necessity. I sat through all 8 episodes in one day because the show was just that enjoyable.

As expected, spoilers abound.

The entire series had the sort of slow burn that I’ve come to expect of a Netflix series. Lord knows we don’t have the patience to watch one episode per week, so the story can be spread out without worrying about whether or not the audience will forget any details and thus don’t have to mention every episode Eleven’s backstory or what happened to the Chief’s daughter.

Having been raised on Disney, I don’t know much about film in the 80s. My film experiences of the time period began and ended with a firetruck red-haired mermaid. A friend in my bowling league mentioned that Stranger Things was rife with references and homages from the 80s and that heightened his enjoyment of the show even more.

Me, I simply enjoyed what was placed in front of me.

The tone was set from the very beginning as a terrified scientist (never a good thing) runs down a hallway trying to escape… what? He makes it as far as the elevator, breathing a tenuous sigh of relief until death comes from above. We’re then immediately transported to an idyllic 1980s house, replete with a colorful assortment of nerdy kids, an over-it older sister, a put-upon mom, and a useless dad.

The characters are all immediately likable, especially the main four, locked away in their basement playing D&D. Pokemon who? We’re later introduced to Winona Ryder’s frenetic mom character, a highlight of the show and Chief Hopper who has given up for reasons we don’t immediately know.

As the show progresses, all of these characters come into their own, each having moments to shine, particularly the surprisingly emotionally aware Dustin (him declaring that he knows he’s not Mike’s best friend was heartbreaking). Eleven, however, struck a chord with me and within her first appearance became my favorite. An androgynous heroine? Sign me up.

Again, I don’t know much of 80s films; I didn’t watch The Goonies until I was 22. But from the few I remember watching on UPN33 on Saturdays after all the kids’ shows had ended, Stranger Things had every 80s trope checked.

That being said, there is one trope I wish would have been left in the 80s.

While Stranger Things was recognizably one big love letter to the time period, the casual homophobia that was apparently so common at the time doesn’t translate as well. On more than one occasion, from episode one, the disappeared Will Byers was repeatedly referred to as a “queer” with the spectacularly loathsome bully Troy making the implication that Will was the unlucky victim of a child molester.

Now as a man of queerness myself, I have a soft spot in my heart for gay characters and was hoping that this information, whether true or not, would pay off. But it never did. The molester line in particular was only meant to enrage the straight character, to give the straight character some cause to finally “man up” and face the bully while the gay kid is off in limbo, probably dead.

In fact, as soon as Will’s queerness was brought into question, I was beginning to fear that Stranger Things would succumb to the Bury Your Gays trope also very prevalent in the 80s. Another character, Barbara “Barb” Holland, while not explicitly lesbian, shows no interest in anyone aside from her best friend, Nancy. (Verily, she doesn’t show interest in anything at all, but that more speaks to a lack of female character development which is another issue in and of itself). Spoiler alert, Barb, too, gets taken by the Demogorgon and giving us a tally of 2/2 of LGBT characters now gone. That’s literally 100% of the introduced queer characters dead (as far as we know). And we all know about LGBT and their math problems.

Now, for those who say that I’m reaching, I reply: you’re absolutely right. But reaches are all that LGBT people have in terms of representation, especially in the 80s. The fact that I even have to lump the acronym together is disheartening. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and queer people should each have their own form of on-screen representation. Until then, we have one character whose sexuality wasn’t explicitly declared in a heterosexual-dominated television landscape who has been given the task of speaking for every one of us.

Don’t worry, folks. I’m not going to attack every show I watch for not having LGBT representation. Unfortunately, heterosexuality is still the default, even in my own head. The writers of Stranger Things, however, chose to reference the possible sexuality of a ~12-year-old and thus elected to put themselves in the position where they could be criticized for their handling of a gay character. They could have made one of the surviving characters gay or, hell, not mentioned it at all (because, again, it never paid off).

And, as I said, I still thoroughly enjoyed the show. Eleven is by far one of my favorite characters and I would pay money to watch the adventures of Eleven and Friends. There’s a fantastic E.T. homage that I won’t spoil that made me laugh for being both expected and unexpected. I would definitely recommend it to any 80s horror/coming-of-age genre fan with a functioning nostalgia filter.

Heres-and-Theres:

  • Where did Will learn how to assemble/load a shotgun?
  • If the Demogorgon tracks by blood, why did it attack Will? Was it just really hungry? Were no females in town suffering visits from Aunt Flo that month?
  • Transdimensional telepathy, yo!
  • Those kids seemed remarkably unfazed by the massacre at the high school.
  • I would also pay money to watch Joyce Byers and Karen Wheeler talk about what their kids are up to while in the kitchen making casserole.
  • Why does Stacy have a blonde wig?
  • Karen Wheeler has a story to tell, I know it.
  • I’m absolutely glad Stacy called Jonathan out on the creep factor. I was hoping this wouldn’t be one of those stories where the misunderstood nerd gets the hot girl who understands him. The only thing Stacy “understands” is that that creature killed her best friend and Jonathan saw it first.
  • What was that egg in the Upside-Down??
  • What did the government say to Hopper?
  • Is Will simply having PTSD or is that vision a sequel tease?

Bingeing While Black is still a relatively new blog, so I’m experimenting with format. I think from here, I’ll start a rating system based on the four criteria I observe as a writer: plot/story, characters, dialogue, and acting.

For Stranger Things:

PLOT/STORY: A

CHARACTERS: C (Needs more females of agency, less dead gays)

DIALOGUE: A

ACTING: A+ (those are some fantastic child actors, but the plus is especially for Millie Bobby Brown and Winona Ryder)

Until the next binge,

Sir Windley.

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