Nostalgia is a fickle thing. It’s slight at first and then wham— the warm feeling washes over, and you’re thrown back to another time. Usually, it vanishes fast but with Netflix’s hit show Stranger Things the nostalgic feel of the 1980s radiates for several binge-worthy hours. This era is resonating powerfully with viewers. Nielsen reported 26 million unique U.S. watched the latest season. We love the ’80s more than free guac because it was the chasm that bridged the past to the modern era. From brick-sized phones to groundbreaking films that set a new standard of storytelling, the decade is unforgettable. ‘Stranger Things’ throws gasoline on nostalgia by igniting the following elements— which results in making each episode feel so damn good.
Clunky Tech Rocks
We’re longing to relive the 1980s because we grew up amongst the relics of that time. Whether you were born in 1992 or 2002, chances are you picked up an obsolete piece of technology (cassette tapes, dial-up modems) and asked your parents, “What’s this?” To which they replied, “Don’t worry about it, we don’t use that anymore.” There were always glimmers of an era passed. A time we never got to experience but were teased by, like hearing laughs from a private rooftop party.
A piece of tech the boys use is shortwave radios. In season 3 Dustin (played by Gaten Matarazzo) is ambitious enough setup his own radio tower. Still, they struggle to maintain a connection between each other as danger looms. This harkens back to ‘Smokey and The Bandit.’ Seeing the boys try to communicate with rudimentary gear makes us smile at our precious smartphones. Connection is only recently an easy feat. While they’re barely able to scream for help through their radios, I can order a pizza, watch Netflix and decline a call from grandma seamlessly from my phone, sorry grandma— I have to watch Eleven kick some ass.
It’s refreshing to see old crappy tech somewhat work though. We’re living in a time where the next iPhone must be able to launch a satellite, order sushi and ponder the meaning of life seamlessly. Seeing old radios, long cord phones and early green and black screen computers just work is oddly satisfying. It makes me look at my beat-up MacBook and say “I’ll keep you another year.”
‘Stranger Things’ has captured the zeitgeist of the masses by balancing subtle and overt references in the storyline. Films like ‘Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Back To The Future’ and ‘Alien’ act as guideposts that pull us down—as fucking cliché as this sounds— memory lane.
They brilliantly swap out the dripping sex appeal from Phobe Cates to Dacre Montgomery who plays Billy the lifeguard and king douche. There’s even a reference Dustin makes saying his “girlfriend that lives in another city” looks like Phoebe Cates. Furthermore, Steve (played by Joe Keery) and Robin (played by Maya Hawke) work at the embarrassing ice cream shop, just like Judge Reinhold working at the pirate-themed restaurant in ‘Fast Times At Ridgemont High.’
We Need To Talk About The Slippery Monster
The monster, which when dissolved sounds like microwaved Mac N’ Cheese, has terrifying close-ups throughout season 3. The Venus-flytrap head of the Mind Flayer has rows of sharp, dripping fangs just like the Xenomorph in Ridley Scott’s seminal classic ‘Alien.’ The close-ups match that of Alien 3 when the Xenomorph growls against Ripley’s face in the hospital scene when Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is pinned down by the monster. I’m not ashamed to admit it but it still scares the hell out of me. This style of directing has faded from horror films—now it seems to more shock horror. The creators of the series (Matt and Ross Duffer aka The Duffer Brothers) practice of restraint makes for a chilling, retro feel.
The Mind Flayer looks like the ugly cousin of John Carpenter’s The Thing, a 1982 sci-fi/fantasy thriller starring Kurt Russell. The long skinny tendrils that exude from the creature stir a primal fear in viewers. The Duffer Brothers, who received praise from horror master Stephen King, are playing three-dimensional chess in building the dark world of Hawkins, Indiana. They are proving themselves to be superb storytellers in the weird genre of retro sci-fi thrillers. In a 2016 Hollywood Reporter interview they attributed a lot of similarities to the sheer volume of Stephen King paperbacks they read as boys. It made me feel less embarrassed about the piles of sci-fi novels stacked amongst my apartment.
No 80s plot would be complete without those pesky Soviets. ‘Stranger Things‘ season 1 started with a secret government research facility that oddly mirrored the computer game ‘Half Life.’ When I watched the first two seasons, I was silently praying for the Russians to get involved. Thankfully, the opening teaser of the episode 1, season 3 starts in a secret facility filled with concerned Russians. Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce (Wynona Ryder) display the Cold War sentiments Americans used to hold, which seem to be making an odd comeback in 2019.
The Russian assassin, named Grigori of course, walks like the Terminator despite lacking the Schwarzenegger size. It was nice to see the out-of-shape but bulky Hopper battle him in true 80s fashion—poor attempts at karate and smashing through drywall. The final battle in the underground facility was reminiscent of the James Bond films from that time— uniformed henchmen on motorized carts, Russians marching with Kalashnikovs and a ticking countdown to the whole thing exploding. The Duffer Brothers managed to keep humor alive throughout which is a feat of its own.
Bad Food. Good Memories.
Ignorance was blissful during the 1980s. A time before gluten was a four-level word; where they seemed to douse everything in cornstarch and wrap it in cellophane. Eleven’s appetite for Eggo waffles makes me want to toss out the organic whole-wheat, conflict-free, vegan waffles from Wholefoods and grab a cold box from the 7-Eleven. We see this too with Hopper’s appetite for Slim Jims and Schlitz beer. Next time you’re in the Midwest, order a Schlitz, it tastes just like it sounds.
True Friends and Scary Love
The real reason ‘Stranger Things‘ strikes a chord is the friendship we see between the kids. It makes me think back to the stupid—and I mean propane tank on a bonfire stupid— adventures my buddies and I had. It was a time where trust was everything and we weren’t afraid to share our vulnerabilities. You can’t talk about your feelings and blow shit up with your office colleagues.
The love between Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is cringeworthy. The child actors really encapsulate the true awkwardness of those moments powered by hormones and good intentions. The mirror of Nancy and Jonathon’s (Charlie Heaton) relationship where the first tastes of real-life responsibilities make me long for those days again. It was when the stakes were high but not mortgage payment high.
Netflix sees the allure of the 1980s and is double-downing on it. Shows such as ‘Narcos’ and ‘GLOW’ celebrate the glitzy neon craze but none hit home as hard as ‘Stranger Things.’ The clunky tech, down-right terrifying—but not too terrifying—monsters, the Russians, and the lasting friendships wash over us. It feels good. It makes me want to play the Talking Heads loud and instead of having a craft IPA tonight I might just reach for a Coors Light and cook a Nathan’s hotdog on the grill. I’ll turn off the air conditioner and flip on ‘Back To The Future’ or maybe ‘Jaws’ to relive that time again—basking in the heat and the nostalgia.