Honest Critique, Television

An Honest Critique Stranger Things

Welcome to this week’s Movie Monday! TV Thursday! TV Monday? Cinema Day? Whatever, I wanted to talk about a TV show again, so I’m going to sandwich movies and TV into the same slot from now on.

Stranger Things is a pretty good show. The characters are all likable, the plot is very well-paced, the visual effects are convincing, the music is great, and it manages to pull off the 80’s nostalgia aspect without making me want to kill myself! It is a ton of fun to watch.

So why am I writing an honest critique of it? Well… because Stranger Things used to be an amazing show!

The first season of Stranger Things took the world by storm! In the blink of an eye, this simple horror show became a pop culture phenomenon! It quickly became the most popular show on Netflix, and for good reason! But I can’t help but feel like the series has been on the decline in terms of quality for a while now.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think seasons two or three are bad. People wouldn’t love them as much as they do if they were bad. However, I do feel that they don’t hold a candle to the first season. In fact, I feel that the series should end with the third season.

Or at least, the series as we know it. Allow me to explain.

Do you remember why Stranger Things was so good in the first place? No, it wasn’t the 80’s aesthetic. You can’t be blamed for guessing the characters, as they are undeniably very solid, but that’s not it either. It wasn’t because of the great visuals or solid performances. The reason was really quite simple.

It was a horror story. A good one!

In its early days, Stranger Things had a masterful understanding of what made effective horror. It perfectly meshed mystery with substance to create a feeling of powerful dread. The Demogorgon was a genuinely terrifying monster, combining a scary design with seemingly unstoppable power. It was also greatly complimented by The Upside Down, one of the most interesting, mysterious and terrifying locations in any horror story I’ve ever seen. Both were basked in an air of mystery that gave them a menacing aura of dread.

Except here’s the thing: you can’t exactly maintain an aura like that over three seasons.

See, the Demogorgon, as well as the Upside Down, were scary because the characters, and therefore the audience, had no idea what they were or how to beat them. Thus, it was a huge relief when they managed to bring the monster down and save Will from the death dimension. But now? There’s no horror to be had!

‘But Jonah!’ I hear you saying. ‘They up the ante in the next seasons! Season two had the army of Demogorgon dogs and the Mind Flayer! The Mind Flayer had the whole mystery thing going on!’ Well, you’re kind of right.

But let me ask you this: were you, at any point during the second season, so uncomfortably scared that you could hardly stare at the screen when the Mind Flayer was around? Were you ever on the edge of your seat when the Demodogos were around?

Simply looking scary and doing supernatural stuff doesn’t make something scary. A dog-like Demogorgon isn’t scary because we already know what it is! We’ve seen the heroes defeat a fully evolved version of the same monster! Sure, there are a lot of them, but so what? We know what they are and what they can do! That isn’t scary!

Sure, the Mind Flayer is a mysterious force. One that could potentially be very frightening. The idea of losing yourself and becoming the mindless puppet to something terrible is a scary idea! Except here’s the problem: he’s ultimately beaten the same way his minions were when Eleven pushes him back into the Upside Down and closes the door!

The monsters of season three are just as bad. Sure, they look cool and they pose a threat to our heroes. But we’ve already seen it all before! We’ve already seen what monsters from the Upside Down look like, so they aren’t scary anymore! Intimidating, yes. Frightening? Far from it.

A similar complaint can be leveled at the main characters. Will, Mike, Eleven and everyone else are all great and likable characters. But here’s the thing: their stories are over! In a horror story, the plot is found in the characters overcoming their own weaknesses to triumph over the monster, thus gaining wisdom and courage. But you can’t do that when the characters have already dealt with similar monsters so many times before!

It doesn’t help that all the characters from the previous seasons are slowly being pushed out of the spotlight. Mike went from being the main character in season one to being just another face in season three. Eleven went from the central force of change to ‘the character that keeps the others from getting killed’. Will went from the centerpiece of the entire plot to the evil radar. They feel dragged out and tired like they’re only there because people loved them before!

These problems are all doomed to get worse and worse as the series goes on. Eventually, the old cast will be so tired and reused that they all may as well not be there. What little horror remains will be completely replaced by the spectacle. The story will become boring and repetitive.

Simply put: Stranger Things is doomed to the same fate as Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. But there is something they can do to save it from this fate.

Become an anthology series.

If they introduced a new cast of characters, monsters, and settings, then the show could have brand-new life breathed into it! The horror that made it so good in the first place could be revitalized! Plus, the writers would be free of the shackles of old plot threads and characters and allowed to give it everything they have! Stranger Things could return from a decent show to a masterpiece!

Do I think this will happen? Probably not. People love the old characters far too deeply to let them go. At this point, there’s no way to take the anthology root without ending the show and rebooting it, which is sure to alienate a large portion of the audience. They’ve made their bed and now they have to sleep in it.

Me personally, I’m done with Stranger Things. If they do start from scratch and become an anthology, then I’ll gladly hop back on board! But I’m not going to get my hopes up.

People enjoy the show for what it is, and that’s okay. Again: I don’t think it’s bad! I’m not here to tell you that you’re wrong for enjoying a show! That’s never my intention! If this show is still scratching an itch for you, then I have nothing but respect for you! I hope the show keeps getting that itchy spot for you until you’re satisfied.

I am done with this show. I enjoyed my time with it, but that time is over. My itch is scratched. I am satisfied.

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