Stranger Things absolutely killed it during 2016. There was the emergence of immensely easy to like Millie Bobby Brown, an unexpectedly phenomenal performance from Winona Ryder, and the nostalgic value of childhood friends getting in and out of mischief together. For Hardwood and Hollywood’s “2016 Winner in Original Netflix Television” category, Stranger Things snagged the victory rather easily in my book. You didn’t have to be a newcomer to take this category, however. For example, Orange Is the New Black was eligible to win for its fourth season that ran on Netflix in 2016, it just didn’t have quite the same excellence as my personal selection. The far and away best TV show to air on Netflix in 2016 was the project that the Duffer Brothers created.
For anyone who lived under a rock over the course of this year, allow me to catch you up. Stranger Things revolves around the disappearance of 12-year-old Will Byers. His mother, Joyce Byers (played by Ryder), rightfully freaks out and attempts to locate her son. Equally concerned is Jim Hopper, the local police chief. Balancing sci-fi and supernatural elements, this Netflix original is able to strike plenty of memorable notes. A group of awkward kids who were friends to Will also attempt to find him throughout the debut season. I could go on and on about the exact plot, but if you’re reading this article, you don’t need to be beaten over the head with what you already know.
The purpose of this piece is to go over why Stranger Things was so successful. First, there is Eleven. Brown plays perhaps one of the strongest child characters to grace our post-2000s TV screens. Although she lacks social intelligence and awareness due to her background, Eleven is nevertheless a bright young girl who possesses a psychokinetic skill set. In other words, she can move things with her mind, and these always make for outrageously entertaining scenes. With the help of Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson, and Lucas Sinclair, Eleven slowly begins to grasp what it means to be a kid. She is basically a sponge who gains perspective and information from observing and interacting with Mike and his buddies as they search for Will.
In these scenes, Stranger Things makes any adult, sci-fi fan or not, nostalgic about their own childhood. Watching the kids go on prolonged walks, ride the streets on their bikes, or play an addicting game in one of their homes brings back memories of us doing the same or similar activities. I doubt many of us had a friend who could mentally lift cars high in the air, but the point is made. Few television shows grasp the childhood innocence and curiosity as much as Stranger Things did during 2016. The interesting dynamic of the show is when these “innocent children” find themselves in extremely serious and adult situations. The Duffer Brothers introduce us to easy going kids but aren’t afraid to put them through the ringer.
Another aspect that contributes to this show’s excellence has to be its episode total. Despite the massive praise Netflix received for its creation, it only ran out eight episodes. Not exactly a lofty total. However, eight is an ideal number in many respects – more than the three-four type of total common for a miniseries, but less than the mid-teen range that can eventually lean towards oversaturation more so than towards pure quality. Eight episodes allowed Stranger Things to tell its initial story, build a loyal fan base, and temporarily walk away with supporters eager for what’s to come. No one is thinking, “Well, the show had a good run, but is its plot sustainable?” No one thinks that. And if they do, they don’t think intelligent thoughts.
I am not exactly your common sci-fi fan. This genre usually doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. But Stranger Things seemed to build such a widespread fan base because, like any great show, its characters were its most critical aspect. I was able to become fully immersed in a sci-fi show since the characters were rich, emotionally genuine, and relatable. Again, not many of us can relate to a mentally gifted child who has god like powers, but again, THE POINT IS MADE. Stranger Things immediately appealed to both the binge-crazed adult and the yearning-for-acceptance child present in all of us once it came out. For these reasons, the Netflix project left its mark on the 2016 year and is expected to duplicate the same impact in 2017.