HORROR FOR A NON-HORROR FAN
I just finished watching Season 1 of Stranger Things (ST) and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I was afraid that the series wasn’t going to live up to the hype set up by online fans of the show. However, after watching all eight episodes, I have to say that I really did come to enjoy it. It started a bit slowly for me (Episodes 1-3), but the middle episodes (4-6) really ratcheted up the tension and while the resolution was good (7-8), they weren’t nearly as impactful as the middle episodes in my opinion. This, I think, is why I didn’t rate it higher. When it is good, it is excellent, but the slow beginning and the not as impactful ending really made the show seem not as suspenseful as it could have been. Now, I didn’t “binge” watch it, but rather watched it one episode at a time on Saturdays (as a reward to myself for getting through a “hard” week), so perhaps that had something to do with it, but in my mind, a really good series should be able to be watched either one episode at a time or “binged” watched without it making a difference.
The one thing that the show really gets right (and makes the bulk of the middle episodes) is the idea of mystery and suspense. These episodes drip feed the story to the viewer in just the right amount of atmosphere, suspense, mystery, character development, and plot progression. We discover more about the characters, the world, the mystery of what is going on, and how all of this came to be in the middle episodes and that is what makes this show so great. While there are horrific elements, the goal is less on trying to scare the viewers and more on creating tense and suspenseful encounters to place the characters and I really appreciated that as a viewer.
STEPHEN KING “LITE”
Okay, so I’m not really a “Horror” fan. When I say that, I mean that while I have read some horror novels and seen some horror movies, they do not make up a major component of my genre experience (unlike Fantasy and Science Fiction). I read authors such as Dan Simmons (in his “Horror” phase) and British author James Herbert (who would now be considered Dark Fantasy instead of Horror). I’ve also seen movies such as Alien and others like it, but in general I prefer the feeling of wonder and excitement to that of dread and horror.
I used to read Stephen King (his 80’s and 90’s work) and ST gives me a Stephen King “Lite” vibe. It has a construction of a less intense and less horrific version of Stephen King’s It. I think that it is the focus on suspense rather than horror that really helped me to become invested in the series.
GOOD RESOLUTION (FOR THE MOST PART)
I liked the ending, although I have to confess, that I wanted the “love” subplot to go differently than it turned out. The resolution of that subplot seemed forced and cliche and relied on a character change that wouldn’t have happened in real life based on the way the original boyfriend acted in the earlier episodes. The character does a complete 180 change in behavior that was hard for me to accept based on his earlier behavior. Also, the creators set up the early episodes giving the “new” love interest a lot of pathos by showing his backstory, his motivations, etc., but because of the old boyfriend’s abrupt change in behavior, this doesn’t go anywhere.
The ending of the main plot, however, seemed to end well and left itself open for a sequel, as shown by the Super Bowl Ad. It definitely seems that while things resolved, it doesn’t seem like the sequel will be forced or unnecessary. I’m actually looking forward to it. I think it will take the show into some very interesting places.
RATING: Season 1 Grade: B+ (Above Average)
If you like suspense and mystery and don’t mind a few chills and scares, then this is a great show to watch. Even though the cast includes a mix of child and adult actors, they all do a great job and are completely invested in the world that the show runners created. I look forward to Season 2 later this year.
IMPLICATIONS FOR MY WRITING
I learned that putting characters that I like into dangerous situations helps to create suspense because you’re invested in that character and you don’t want to see anything bad happen to that character. This tension is what creates suspense and why I think that the middle episodes (4-6) are so good.
Also, I learned that I shouldn’t change a character’s behavior mid-way through without a good reason (perhaps externally). The show runners obviously wanted to show that the “old” boyfriend had a change of heart, but his change wasn’t earned well enough/strong enough (in my mind) to result in the change that occurred. I need to remember to make any change in the character that deviates radically absolutely explicit to the reader to make the reader believe that the character could change realistically in the way I show by clearly showing the internal/external struggle that forces that change.