04th Sep2017

Culture Dump #7: ‘Stranger Things’ can’t rely on nostaglia forever

by Simon Bland

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When Stranger Things debuted last summer we were treated to something weirdly familiar. The small-town Spielbergian feel, that Stephen King font, countless Dungeons and Dragons references… The Duffer Brothers’ 80s-set sci-fi series was literally dripping with VHS-tinged nostalgia. Thankfully, it also featured some weighty turns from Winona Ryder, David Harbour and Matthew Modine. Combined, they saved it from getting lost in a bouffant-hair tangle of retro callbacks but still – that nostalgia factor undoubtedly played a huge part in shooting it straight to the top of everyone’s binge list in record time.

​It’s not that surprising. With pop-culture’s incessant need to reflect on its own past achievements, a retro-gaze show like Stranger Things felt sort of inevitable. Twelve months later and with the Duffer duo prepping an eagerly anticipated second season little seems to have changed, although whether or not it’ll be gobbled up as ravenously by fans remains to be seen. If the show’s marketing push is anything to go by, Stranger Things has delved deeper into pop-culture regression than any of its scrawny cast ever dared delve into the shadowy Upside Down. It raises the question: how long can the show rely on self-aware nods in place of original tone-setting?

Just look at the marketing materials Netflix has put together for their new slew of episodes. We’ve had old-school character posters, complete with paper-fold creases photoshopped in for that authentic video-store feel and four promo images riffing on iconic movies like Stand By Me and Alien.

To be fair, ‘riffing’ is being a bit generous, it’s more like straight-up replicating – imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery to some but to others it could be seen as straight-up plagiarism. Hell, those Duffers have even recruited 80s icons like Goonies leader Sean Astin and Aliens bloke Paul Reiser to help hit their nostalgia point home in season two. Whatever your opinion, the thought remains: why won’t Stranger Things tease us with something new instead of playing on our collective love of movie geekery?

Whatever the reason, it’ll surely have to make this transition sooner or later. With a reported four-season arc in the works, Stranger Things’ sophomore series will be a defining and crucial moment for the story. Will audiences lap up its numerous nods to the shows, movies and music that defined their youth or will they clamour for something a little more fresh and exciting? With any luck, The Duffer Brothers have a few left-field surprises waiting for us lurking in the deep and eerie darkness of the Upside Down…

Does Stranger Things‘ nostalgia bother you? Let me know in the comments below!

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