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Tag Archive: Duffer Brothers


Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s not every location for a TV series that becomes the best part of the that series.  For the third season of Stranger Things, which arrived on Netflix this Fourth of July weekend, the big win was Starcourt Mall.  Maybe it’s the fact so many of us have vivid memories of their own mall for their first jobs, for birthday parties, or where they bought their favorite shoes, rendezvoused with friends, and watched their favorite movies–or just as likely, the fact that so many younger viewers weren’t around to witness malls of the 1980s and can only guess what they were like–whatever the reason, Stranger Things showrunners the Duffer Brothers (Ross and Matt) made a wise move setting a major part of this year’s eight episodes there.  Initially Netflix kept its Starcourt Mall intact for a possible tourist attraction (actually a rebuilt section of Duluth, Georgia’s Gwinnett Place Mall, far away from Indiana), but early crowds and the inability to make a deal resulted in trashing the sets entirely (except Scoops Away, which went into storage).  Now nothing remains of the rented space in the mall used for the series, but what a great idea gone to waste!

So what other than the mall makes for the good and bad this season on Stranger Things?

Six writers concocted interwoven storylines that matched the prior two seasons–the series is consistent, neither better nor worse than past seasons, but just as good and even great in places.  That fandom phrase “I’d rather watch bad [insert: Star Trek, Star Wars, etc. here] than anything else” rings true for Stranger Things, although you’ll rarely find much that qualifies as completely “bad.”  Each season has those early season episodes that make the story seem like the greatest thing since the 1980s, and yet other episodes stumble.  That was true this season.  The best thread tracked older teen Joe Keery′s Steve Harrington and one of the series’ main four kids, Gaten Matarazzo′s Dustin Henderson.  Dustin has just returned from a science camp, to find the two series kid leads Finn Wolfhard′s Mike Wheeler and Millie Bobby Brown′s Eleven/El inseparable in their young romance.  The best recurring question of the season is whether Dustin’s girlfriend Suzie is real or imaginary.  Steve works at the mall now with a grumbly gal named Robin, played by Maya Hawke, who becomes another high point of the season, and integral to moving the story forward.  What better way to launch the career of the daughter of popular and acclaimed actors Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke than a fun season of Stranger Things (Her work and quick development of a likeable character promises a huge career is in store for her).  Growing out of the events of last season, Dustin and Steve, with co-worker Robin, embark on a mission to save their friends, Hawkins, and the world from a beast connected to El, Noah Schnapp′s Will Byers, and the Demogorgon of past seasons, and a new, perfectly timed 1980s nemesis: the Russians, led by Andrey Ivchenko as a thug mash-up of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick in their Terminator series roles.

The other series cast members are divided into three teams, each slowly piecing together clues to solve the season’s riddles, with older teens Natalie Dyer′s Nancy Wheeler and Charlie Heaton′s Jonathan Byers still a couple, but now struggling against 1980s office politics, including a vile co-worker played in typical Busey fashion by Jake Busey.  The other kids–El, Mike, Will, Caleb McLaughlin′s Lucas Sinclair and Sadie Sink′s Max Mayfield, also still a couple, reflect most of the “coming of age” story that dominated past seasons.  The best of this is the visual nostalgia accompanying an El and Max outing to the aforementioned Starcourt Mall.  The adults are back, with top-billed star Winona Ryder getting some better development this season as Joyce Byers, the first to realize something is again wrong in Hawkins.  David Harbour is back as police chief Jim Hopper, but unfortunately his character is the low point of the season–he gets tossed around and becomes the butt of jokes as with last season, instead of carrying forward that decisive, strong, cool personality we met in Stranger Things first season.

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This week the creators of Stranger Things are releasing the first comprehensive look behind the scenes of the popular Netflix series’ first two seasons in Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down–The Official Behind-the-Scenes Companion Along with a sneak peek at next year’s third season, the book is full of nostalgia from the series, a sci-fi/fantasy adventure all about nostalgia for the 1980s.  That comes through in the unique design on the cover, which intentionally resembles a battered, old book fresh off the revolving used book rack at the local supermarket.  Check out a preview below courtesy of Random House.

Look for full color photographs, concept art, and even some pull-out material.  Many of the photographs have not been published before.  Details include:

• original commentary and a foreword from creators Matt and Ross Duffer
• exclusive interviews with the stars of the show, including Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, and David Harbour
• the show’s earliest drafts, pitches to Netflix, and casting calls
• insights into the Duffers’ creative process from the entire crew—from costume and set designers to composers and visual-effects specialists
• deep dives into the cultural artifacts and references that inspired the look and feel of the show
• a map of everyday Hawkins—with clues charting the network of the Upside Down
• the Morse code disk Eleven uses, so you can decipher secret messages embedded throughout the text
• a look into the future of the series—including a sneak preview of Season 3

It also includes classic retro character sheets from Dungeons & Dragons, filled in for each key cast member.

You can pre-order Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down now at more than $5 off the cover price here at Amazon.  Check out this preview:

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Among the best of the free swag at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con was scoring a copy of the ashcan* issue that previewed this month’s new Stranger Things comic book series from Dark Horse Comics.  The series will be published in four issues, all beginning this month.  This year’s go-to comic book writer Jody Houser is writer on the series, with artwork by Stefano Martino, Keith Champagne, and Lauren Affe.

Not only is this new story retro in every way like the series, Houser takes us back inside the events of Season One, following Will and his journey through the Upside Down.  Don’t worry–the rest of the kids are part of the story, too.

Look for four covers for the first issue, created by Aleksi Briclot, Kyle Lambert, and Rafael Albuquerque, with a variant series for all four issues with nifty retro-Scholastic book order-style, tattered back-pocket paperback-inspired covers, created by Patrick Satterfield.

  

Now you can download the entire 16-page preview issue from the publisher–free!  Then check out our first look at all the cover artwork for Issues #1, #2, and #3, including covers from artists Greg Ruth, Steve Morris, Matthew Taylor, Grzergorz Domaradzki, and more (including a brilliant M.C. Escher-inspired creation), courtesy of Dark Horse.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

First of all, let’s be clear:  For goodness sake don’t read anything anywhere about this new season of Stranger Things if you haven’t seen it yet.  Pin this and come back when you have.

There are many problems with shows that drop at once as with the Netflix original series (other channels have done this as well).  For simple discussion purposes, whether you’re on social media, whether you’re a critic or commentator, or whatever, you don’t quite know when it’s time to delve into a discussion of a show.  The other thing is that from a cultural standpoint, how many times have you defined a period of your life with reference to a season of a television series?  I grew up as a kid with the networks and a black and white television, followed by the introduction of cable channels and color TV sets.  Much of my memory can be tied to the Magnum, p.i. and Simon & Simon years, the Buffy years, the Voyager years, the Chuck years, etc.  With one-drop seasons that you gobble up in one bite versus savoring over a few months, that kind of life reference may drift away.  Is it important?  Not really, but it’s mildly interesting that we may be in some kind of transitional phase, from a pop culture standpoint.

<finger tap, finger tap>

Still here?  Let’s chat about Stranger Things, Season Two.

As a lover of all things retro, and an uber fan of John Carpenter movies, I thought the first season of Stranger Things was a great first season.  But I wasn’t convinced it was the real deal–that the Duffer Brothers were going to be able to pull it off again in a second season.  After the anticipation and wait, I couldn’t have been happier with the result–except for one factor, but more on that later.  In fact I think Season Two was better than Season One.  Probably not lots better, but enough that I had more fun with the show this round.

So what did I love about Season Two?

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We saved the best for last: Netflix’s full trailer for Stranger Things, Season 2.  If you thought the trailer previewed earlier here at borg.com for Ready Player One didn’t provide an adequate 1980s retro fix, then you’re in store for something awesome.  Dragon’s Lair!  Vincent Price and Thriller?  A nicely creepy vibe from The Sixth Sense, only here, “I see Demogorgons.”

The cast from season one is all here, plus some new.  At Hall H today at San Diego Comic-Con creators The Duffer Brothers, and returning cast Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin Henderson), Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas Sinclair), Noah Schnapp (Will Byers), Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler), David Harbour (Chief Hopper), Natalia Dyer (Nancy Wheeler), Charlie Heaton (Jonathan Byers), and Joe Keery (Steve Harrington), were joined by new cast members Sean Astin as Bob, Paul Reiser as Dr. Owens, and Dacre Montgomery and Sadie Sink, as two siblings.

Wait no longer, check out all the great 1980s vibes, John Carpenter and Stephen King style, with the next Stranger Things trailer, straight from Comic-Con today:

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Stranger Things cast

Stranger Things is a rare thing among plenty of series bombarding viewers of streaming services.  It would never get accused of trying too hard.  It’s good but not great.  It features no major actors.  It has developed a cult following yet it is not produced by J.J. Abrams (think Lost, Fringe, Almost Human, Believe, Westworld).  And for all these things, it’s just what we want.  We’ve had enough of CGI and big budget explosions and special effects.  Low budget is just fine–for now.  It’s that movie you are looking for late on a Saturday night, but stretched to eight episodes long.

More series like this will make Netflix survive despite all the competition from other services.  Stranger Things is good enough–good at sci-fi and horror and coming of age retro fun–to get you to sign up with Netflix for your next binge watch session.  More important than its storytelling is how the story is told, and the efforts taken to make the series, the characters, the setting, the dialogue, all look like it was filmed in the early 1980s.  Several artists have even mocked up the series marketing material into VHS tape packaging.  Were it a movie-length feature it would probably fool many.  It’s in the same vein as Disney’s Watcher in the Woods.  Like Stephen King’s Firestarter, Stand By Me and Silver Bullet it features kids in a coming-of-age setting.  Its monster/alien horror and soundtrack (available here) reflects the look and vibe of John Carpenter movies.  The marketing screams Stephen King, especially that red-on-black title font.  And it will no doubt gin up nostalgia to spur cassette tapes of its soundtrack like Guardians of the Galaxy.

Stranger Things VHS

It’s Steven Spielberg’s E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, if the story had taken a darker turn, and very similar to Spielberg and Abrams’ Super 8 (Super 8 poster artist Kyle Lambert even created the poster for this series to further lock in the look).  Critics have picked apart odds and ends found in the background of scenes–this item didn’t exist then, etc.  But ultimately the overall feel is very right.  You’ll point to a pitcher on the table, a rug on the floor, a poster on the wall, all that you had back then.  And the season one wrap-up is as satisfying as you’re going to find in a TV series.

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