Stranger Things: Reviewed


Last night I spent a sickening amount of time in bed watching Netflix. I would be ashamed, but instead I feel enlightened – for I have finished Stranger Things.

It’s a new science fiction horror series by the Duffer Brothers – two genius twins – set in 1980s Indiana. The story goes that a local boy has gone missing, having been captured by a mysterious creature. And so his pals set out to find him on an adventure more fantastical than their boardgames.

The strange thing is that I deplore sci-fi, and so my relationship with this series has come as something of a surprise. Anything with aliens, science banter and whatever else might be termed ‘Brian Cox porn’ leaves me cold. But then I saw that Winona Ryder was in Stranger Things, and being a big fan of hers, I thought I’d give it a try.

She stars as the mother of the kidnapped child, weeping and screaming as she hunts for news of her baby. It is a rotten part to get, and yet Ryder may be the only woman in the world who can dazzle in such a role.

You have to give Stranger Things time. The beginning of the series left me confused to say the least, and I did begin to wonder if its scriptwriters had done a ‘Lost’ – and were making the story up as they went along. Eventually things fell into place, and it evolved into one of the most gripping, fulfilling dramas I’ve seen in ages. Even the scientific parts had me glued to my seat – /bed.

The Duffer Brothers are masters of style, and Stranger Things features some highly imaginative sets that somehow complement an eerie minimalist soundtrack. The music provides the whole backbone to the piece, and definitely deserves an award or five. There are many cultural homages along the way – to 80s films, and even the more recent Donnie Darko and Drive – but Stranger Things is still its own beast.

What really sold the whole thing to me was that I liked the characters – a lot! There are so many of them; they talk like real people, and they’re complex. Dotted along the way are plenty of satisfying ironies and nuances – and romance – to keep even the most reluctant of sci-fi watchers enraptured. This is where Stranger Things trumps other films in this genre, which are often weak on characterisation in lieu of flashy technology.

This Netflix series made me laugh, cry and envy the Duffer brothers – for they have created something as special as it is supernatural. Stranger Things really is strange – for it has united audiences that are galaxies apart.

Teenagers should get summer jobs? Good luck with that one, Stanley Johnson

Stanley Johnson

For many young people, gaining employment is like finding a unicorn – seemingly impossible. Others in comfortable careers forget this sometimes, particularly those whose main experience of the 2008 financial crisis came from broadsheets.

Eight years after the economic turbulence, the working world remains a frosty place for the young. In March-May, 617,000 people aged 16 to 24 were unemployed, and although the statistics are improving, ground troops barely notice the impact. I have no doubt about the way in which this impacts on how the young feel about themselves; rejection after rejection teaches them that they are society’s burden. Huge numbers of skilled individuals are practically begging businesses to let them staple things.

Violins aside, the most irritating thing older generations can do is remind the young about the importance of finding work – like Stanley Johnson this week. The BBC asked him to comment on research showing that fewer teenagers are choosing summer jobs. In a well-intentioned response, Johnson emphasised the important of holiday enterprise, reminiscing about his lovely time on a farm.

Johnson comes from an age where summer jobs were a simple, functional and often attainable part of existence. But a lot has changed since then; in the 21st century, gaining such employment may feel like getting through rounds of the X Factor audition process: competitive, scary, and a bit humiliating.

Teenagers are no longer demand, and don’t they know it. Because of the dire unemployment situation, many now find themselves pitted against seniors for what would have once been a ‘summer job’. And so business managers, overwhelmed with candidates for cleaning the toilets, will go for the more experienced, longer-term prospect.

Things have hardly changed since when I was a teenager, eight years ago; in fact, the current state of things might be worse. There was nothing I romanticised more than a summer job and every year I would exhaust myself trying to convince people I could put clothing on racks.

Eventually I found my big break on a farm, where I pulled out weeds for a week and hung out with a border terrier called Dolly. When the garden was cleared, I felt sadder than ever knowing that I would go back to the solitary abyss of teenage life. Such hopeless efforts finding occupation left me confused and demoralised.

So I somewhat empathise with the teenagers of today, who are ‘choosing’ not take a summer job. I suspect what they are really choosing is their sanity, faced with such an unfriendly market. Of course there are lazy teenagers, who delight in doing nothing. But there are also a lot who are plainly quite clueless about how to mobilise their talents, or whether society really wants them at all.

I imagine that when they hear the likes of Johnson promote summer jobs, they are not only affronted, but also envious. Even the most menial of labour is a privilege these days.