New & Noteworthy

Fresh For February

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

Whether it’s a brand new show or an old favourite returning to the screen, television in February has a lot to love. Here’s a list –

1. Taboo – Tom Hardy and Ridley Scott get together in this eight-episode miniseries that is set in 19th century England. The Mad Max star plays James Delaney, a man long presumed to be dead in Africa, who returns to England to extract revenge on all those who have wronged him. Taboo promises vengeance, stolen diamonds, an abundance of top hats, and also boasts of an all-star cast that includes Jonathan “The High Sparrow” Pryce, Oona Chaplin and Michael Kelly.

2. Homeland, Season 6 – Homeland returns to our screens, this time with the focus shifting back to the United States as Carrie (Claire Danes) moves to New York City. The season’s storyline, apart from featuring a firecracker of a political situation will, interestingly enough, also involve an election with a female presidential candidate. The sixth season of Homeland also feels darker, and seems to hold more intrigue than focusing on the twists that it’s famous for. {Star World & Hotstar}

3. A Series Of Unfortunate Events – Lemony Snicket’s deliciously wicked children’s book series makes its small screen debut with Netflix. The rich, brilliant but chronically unlucky Baudelaire children lose their parents and are put in the care of their relative, Count Olaf, who makes it very clear that he’s only after their large inheritance. Neil Patrick Harris returns to the small screen as the Count, an unabashedly evil and twisted man with a failed drama career. If you liked the books, rest assured that you’ll love the show. {Netflix}

4. The Young Pope – Jude Law plays Pius XIII, a forty something Pope elected by Cardinals with the hope that he will be their puppet, except things never really go to plan, do they? Born Lenny of Brooklyn, Pius XIII declares independence and asserts his authority as a master of manipulation. This HBO series is directed by Oscar award winning director Paolo Sorrentino, and also stars Diane Keaton, as a nun. If that isn’t good reason for you to get started on watching this show, I don’t know what is.

5. Girls, Season 6 – Lena Dunham’s outrageous and sometimes bawdy coming-of-age drama, Girls, finally comes to an end with the sixth season set to premiere this month. Although the show has been criticized many times for having characters that no one could relate to, there’s no doubt that it has made a significant impact on modern pop-culture, with its messy-on-purpose storylines and oddly endearing characters. {Hotstar}

Prime Choice

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

E-Commerce giant Amazon launched Prime Video a few weeks ago to its Indian customers. Prime Video is an online video streaming service, like Netflix and HotStar. The service is free, rather, packaged with the ‘Prime’ subscription that Amazon offers for its customers, where, for an annual fee, they receive extra discounts, free delivery and other privileges. Although Prime Video is probably one of the cheapest subscription services out there at Rs. 500/- a year (not to mention the host of benefits that you’d also be receiving as an Amazon customer), it must be said that there isn’t much variety on offer, especially on the TV show front. But hey, when life gives you lemons, you make lists – so here’s my pick of the TV series that are available on Prime Video.

1. Mozart In The Jungle – Based on Blair Tindall’s 2005 memoir of the same title, Mozart in The Jungle is a series about the inner workings of orchestras, and what it takes to make it in (western) classical music today. A young, unconventional new maestro is appointed at the (fictional) New York Symphony to shake things up and bring in more audiences. The motley set of characters might seem too many at the start, but it doesn’t take too much time for the show to draw you in to its world. The episodes are short, and move fast, so if you find yourself binge watching for five hours straight, well, I warned you.

2. Transparent – Transparent has been a bit of a constant fixture on every award show’s nomination list ever since it made its debut in 2014, and with good reason. This show about a seventy-year-old man who comes out as a transgender to his family, and the world, is heartwarming in ways you don’t expect it to be. Transparent takes on heavy issues like gender and sexuality with a light touch, and a great deal of sensitivity and humour.

3. The Girlfriend Experience – The Girlfriend Experience traces the story of a law student interning in a corporate firm who moonlights as an escort for rich men. The show initially seems to be a tiring commentary about prostitution, but halfway through the first season becomes much more complex and crosses over multiple genres. It’s dark and at times, quite morbid, but riveting throughout.

4. The Night Manager – Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston and Olivia Colman come together to create magic on screen in this BBC produced mini-series. I have raved about this show enough times on this space, but I’ll reiterate here that it truly is one of the best mini-series out there in terms of story-telling, acting and adrenaline.

5. Mr. Robot – Mr.Robot is easily one of the edgiest television shows out there, with its hacking based storyline and borderline neurotic protagonist, Elliot (Rami Malek). Mr. Robot is thrilling, but also terrifying, for every episode is a reminder of the colossal amount of information that the internet has on and about us, and how vulnerable we are to it. It’s a show that’s as much about hacking people, as it is about hacking computers.

mr.robot, rami malek

For Children Of All Ages

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

If you’ve followed, or are a fan of Guillermo Del Toro’s work as a film director, you’d be well aware of his bent for the fantastic and the impossible. He is the man who brought Hellboy to life, and gave us the monster fest that was Pacific Rim. Naturally, news of his collaboration with Dreamworks Animation and Netflix to produce an animated series was one that caused quite a stir. The result of this collaboration, Trollhunters, premiered on Netflix this Friday.

Trollhunters takes on the story of a 15-year-old boy, Jim (Anton Yelchin, who unfortunately, passed away this year), who is chosen by a magical amulet to become the Trollhunter – a hero who must protect both good trolls and mankind from evil trolls. Jim is helped in his mission by his best friend Toby (Charlie Saxton), and Blinky (Kelsey Grammer), a good troll who takes it upon himself to train Jim in the ways of the Trollhunter. Jim must now train, and defeat the evil troll Bular (Ron Perlman) who will stop at nothing to destroy the amulet and claim both worlds.

The series has twenty-six episodes in total, and they’re fairly short, with each clocking not more than twenty-five minutes, making them the perfect little work break, or the perfect binge, depending on how you watch Netflix shows.

It must be said though, that there is nothing in Trollhunters that’s particularly groundbreaking by way of story or characters, which is disappointing considering that someone with the caliber and whimsy of Del Toro is directing it. Trollhunters just has all the usual Dreamworks tropes – the underdog who is suddenly thrust with a hero’s responsibility, the sidekick who also provides comic relief, the adolescent love interest, adorable creatures and a fierce villain, who are all put together with the stunning animation that has become Dreamworks’ signature. The troll worlds are beautifully constructed with meticulous attention to detail, and the Man vs. Troll fights are impressively choreographed. The dialogue is fast and has plenty of humour, again, something that’s become standard with anything that Dreamworks produces. Occasionally, there are moments that stand out, like Jim’s interest in cooking and baking, and the way he takes care of his overworked mother, but there is nothing that particularly makes you go whoa, I’ve never seen this before – especially when you’ve watched How To Train Your Dragon, which is very similar in terms of storyline and characters.

That isn’t to say that the show is not fun, though – it’s immensely enjoyable to watch. In a time when television is getting darker and edgier, Trollhunters’ simplicity is actually its selling point. It’s light, visually arresting, clean, and possesses neither the pandering that kids’ shows today are in excess of, nor the risqué jokes that adult animation shows are infamous for. Trollhunters is a show for children, yes, but of all ages.

{Trollhunters is presently streaming on Netflix}

A Year In The Life

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

The Gilmore Girls premiered in the year 2000, bringing to life the story of a young single mother, Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and her teenaged daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) in the fictional American town of Stars Hollow. Lorelai and Rory’s special and unconventional mother-daughter relationship, along with the witty banter that became the show’s signature, captured the imagination of millions before the series came to a close in the year 2007. The Gilmore Girls’ relatable themes of friendship, romance and family, its cast of memorable characters, and the way the show used dialogue to guide the story line made it an instant classic.

The show’s ending in 2007 though, was not one that was received well by fans, and with good reason. Instead of tying the 6 season old storyline together, the ending only brought on more questions and what-ifs. This botched finale was attributed to the absence of the show’s original creators, Amy Sherman and Daniel Palladino, because of network and channel politics. After years of more what-ifs and rumours of a Gilmore Girls movie, the original creators along with the internet streaming giant and series-factory Netflix are bringing the Gilmores back with ‘Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life’, which has released right on time for this weekend.

I’ll confess here that I’m an unabashed Gilmore Girls fan – I used to catch the occasional re-runs on television, but ever since it surfaced on Netflix, I’ve constantly turned to the show and copious amounts of ice cream to put a good end to bad days. I’m not one to be excited by revivals (remember how Fuller House turned out?), but given that the show’s original creators are the ones behind the revival, I am hopeful.

A Year In The Life, thankfully, isn’t a new series. It’s a feature with four episodes, each about ninety minutes long and named after the four seasons. The show picks the story up in present day to tell us what’s been happening with the Gilmores, nine years later. Richard Gilmore (Edward Herrmann, who died in 2014), the patriarch of the Gilmore clan, has passed, creating fresh strains on the already delicate relationship between Lorelai and her mother, Emily (Kelly Bishop). Rory decides to return to Stars Hollow as well, to take the time to find herself, for her once promising journalism career still has her searching for success. The rest of the town continues to be in its comfortable little bubble, far removed from the happenings of the real world – the Dragonfly Inn still has sarcastic Frenchman Michel (Yanic Truesdale) running its phones, Rory’s exes are still around, and Lorelai’s partner-of-many-years-now, Luke, is still sermonizing his customers.

That isn’t to say, however, that the show isn’t aware of the time period it’s in, and what it is – the pop culture references which the characters have always been throwing around, have been updated to feature Amy Schumer and Game of Thrones, and more importantly, Rory, Lorelai and Emily, are all made to feel their age.

Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life isn’t a revival that requires prior knowledge of seven seasons to enjoy. All you need is a love for free flowing repartee and the acquired taste for small town oddities, like the fact that there’s only one café in the whole town and everyone knows everything about everybody. You might even find yourself going back to the original, and generally losing all track of time. If you’re a Gilmore Girls fan though, get the pizza ready – it’s going to be a good weekend.

{Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life is now streaming on Netflix}

Love, Found and Lost

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Sarah Jessica Parker returns to the stables of HBO with Divorce, which, on first sight, feels like a twisted sequel to her much celebrated Sex And The City. Parker, through six seasons of Sex And The City, did everything she could to find true love (while accumulating an enviable shoe collection) in New York City. Now she returns as Frances Dufresne, a married woman struggling to put her life back on track as goes through, well, divorce.

The show begins with the couple, Frances and Robert (Thomas Haden Church), when they’re still married. It’s immediately made obvious that they’ve been together for a while, but are not really madly in love. They head out to a friend’s birthday party where an abundance of alcohol results in things going sideways, with a dramatic shooting and heart attack. The shock of it all makes Frances realize she doesn’t want to be with Robert anymore, and take her life back while she “still cares about it”. Frances breaks to Robert that she wants a divorce, throwing him, predictably, into shock and anger for he had been of the opinion that they were happy together. While Robert tries to process what had just happened to him, Frances realizes that making a clean start after a middle aged marriage is harder than she thought it would be and runs back to make amends, but it’s too late. There are no spoilers here – the show’s title makes it clear that there is no happy ending.

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When the show was announced, I’d been of the opinion that it was some kind of unfortunate sequel to Sex And The City, after all, it’s hard to see Sarah Jessica Parker as anyone else other than Carrie Bradshaw. However, I am happy to admit that I was proven wrong by the show. While there are bits of Carrie’s personality that have been infused into Frances, it’s obvious that she is her own person, and not an aging Carrie. The addition of her friends’ lives in the narrative though, unlike in Sex And The City seems forced and unnecessary. Thomas Haden Church is painfully hilarious as Robert, part sincere husband and part incompetent buffoon. He has the demeanor of a soldier who has seen unspeakable things, to the point where even his apparently romantic declarations seem like he’s barking instructions to his men. It’s clear that Frances and Robert couldn’t be more different, and yet there is something about them together which makes sense, and for me, that’s where the show’s success lies.

Divorce explores every married couple’s worst nightmare – what happens when the person you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with, isn’t the really the one you want to spend the rest of your life with? The show gets into the nitty-gritties of the modern marriage, and connects in ways you’ll never expect it to. There are no yelling matches or burst blood vessels or dramatic revelations or tears. Instead there are awkward silences, obvious dysfunction and unflinching honesty – not what you’d want in a marriage, but everything you’d want in a black comedy.

{Divorce is telecast on Star World Premier HD and is also available to stream on Hotstar}

Ugly Reflections

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Black Mirror isn’t a television series as much as it is an anthology. The episodes are independent stories, so there’s no requirement of watching them in order. They are, however, tied together by the common theme of technology, and the consequences of technology. The first and second season which was written for and broadcast by UK’s Channel 4, released in 2011 and 2013 respectively, with three hour long episodes each. The third season, produced by Netflix, released on the 24th of this month, with six episodes – six different, terrifying stories of how our dependent relationships with technology could alter our lives, and the world.

Each episode takes on a different genre – the first episode, Nosedive, is an excellent satire based on our fixation with social media and is set in a pastel coloured, alternate future (or near future, depending on how you look at it). In this world, every social interaction, whether it’s getting into a cab or buying coffee, involves you being rated out of 5, which in turn shapes your rating as a person. Permanently cheerful and ridiculously good-looking 4.5s get treated with extra care, gain access to privileged spaces, and can claim their world as their oyster. The lesser ranked 3.5s and below – the ones who speak unpleasantly, the ones who don’t care for appearances, are categorized as low lives who for whom facilities are shut off. Nosedive narrates the story of a young woman who gives all she has into climbing up the ratings ladder so that she can move into a plush housing colony.

The second episode, Playtest, tells the story of a somewhat dull American traveler who agrees to test out a virtual reality game for quick money. It’s a fun episode to watch, but is among the weaker episodes in the anthology, with too many predictable, cheesy horror movie tropes and a rather ineffective twist in the end. The similarly themed fifth episode, Men Against Fire, which deals with augmented reality and tells the story of trigger happy soldiers whose brains are implanted with chips that make them see deformed zombies instead of human enemies, isn’t the most impressive either. While the moral lesson is necessary, the episode feels bloated, and doesn’t connect.

The third (Shut Up And Dance) and the sixth (Hated In The Nation) episodes are the standouts of the season. Hated In The Nation combines online bullying with drone technology with a classic whodunit police investigation, resulting the most riveting and well taken 90 minutes of television that you’d have seen in a while. Shut Up And Dance is an especially disturbing story of how a 19 year old, soft-spoken waiter in a café, and a married 40 year old are forced to come together as an unlikely tag team who have to complete terrible tasks when a mysterious hacker gets hold of the secrets of their computers and threatens to leak it to the world. It is poignant, gripping, upsetting and has an ending that lingers long after the episode finishes.

black mirror season 3
I thought the fourth episode was too eh-meh to write about, so here’s a photo.

Black Mirror, as a series can be especially bizarre when you’re watching it for the first time, and this third season hasn’t been consistent with the quality of its episodes. However, if you’re even slightly fascinated by the impact that technology has on our lives, Black Mirror is a series you don’t want to miss.

{The first three seasons of Black Mirror are currently streaming on Netflix}

 

Royal Pains

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

The lives of the British Monarchy have been the subject of endless fascination for generations. One would think they’ve no relevance given the times we live in, but the celebrity treatment of the Royals, which began with Princess Diana, has well and truly exploded today. Forget Prince William and the Duchess, Kate Middleton – even their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, are not spared from the constant public scrutiny of not just their behavior, but even their outfits. You’ve got to hand it to the Royals though, their public appearances are always so put together, so polished, so perfect, but the inner workings of their family are kept tantalizingly private. Occasionally a scandal breaks out, but the finer details are buried deep and stowed away, far, far away from the rest of us. Consequently, there’s a Royal rumour mill that never loses steam, and a slew of ‘inspired’ films and television series that try to offer some perspective on their lives.

the crown on netflix

The latest, and perhaps the most promising endeavor in this regard, is Netflix’s newest drama series, The Crown. What makes this series special, isn’t that it’s Netflix’s most expensive production yet (they seem to be topping their previous record for spending every three months now), or even that it is written by Peter Morgan, who was also the writer behind the 2006 film starring Dame Helen Mirren, The Queen, as well as Frost/Nixon. The Crown is special because, for the first time, the Royals seem to have approved of the show- Peter Morgan had revealed at a Press Conference that they were ‘very, very, aware’ of it, and that it might not be too long before Netflix manages to get the Queen’s opinion of it.

The Crown is a drama that seeks to explore the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, and the first season, which comprises ten episodes and releases in a few weeks, begins at the very beginning. The year is 1947, the second World War has just about come to an end, Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) has been re-elected as Prime Minister, and Princess Elizabeth (Claire Foy) is getting married to Prince Philip (Matt Smith). In the middle of all this, King George VI (Jared Harris) is ailing – he is frequently coughing blood, which his faithful attenders dismiss as a symptom of “the cold”. It isn’t long before he discovers that it isn’t the cold, but cancer, and realizes that he must do all he can, while he can, to prepare his barely 25 years old daughter for the throne. The Crown explores the impact that the adherence to duty, to royal duty, has over family and relationships, and the immense burden that is placed on a young woman’s shoulders.

Claire Foy plays young Queen Elizabeth, which is interesting because this series would be the second time she’s playing an important English queen on television – she was spectacular as Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall, and her performance in The Crown doesn’t seem any different. Matt Smith is also wonderful as Prince Philip, a man who is caught between the boundless love he has for his young wife, and hating the monarch that she must become.

The Crown is the story of a Princess who became Queen, but make no mistake – it isn’t a fairytale.

{The Crown releases on Netflix on November 4th}

These Violent Delights

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It was the famed novelist, Michael Crichton, who had written and directed ‘Westworld’, the film, back in 1973. The sci-fi thriller was about an amusement park where guests with heavy pockets could indulge themselves in any way they wanted with the highly realistic robotic inhabitants of the park – from gunfights to lovemaking, everything is kosher to those who can afford it. These robots are programmed in such a way that they can never harm the guests, until one day, they begin malfunctioning and predictably, all hell breaks loose. Westworld was a film that was far ahead of its time, and a runaway box office hit as well. The truth is that I’ve not seen the film (although I am very familiar with Crichton’s similarly themed Jurassic Park) which is why HBO’s lavishly produced television reboot of the film was one that interested me as much as it did.

Westworld (the TV series) picks up thirty years from where the movie left off – the park is well established again and the robots are more human than ever, to the point where it’s impossible to distinguish them from the guests. The only tell that they have is their inability to harm live creatures, which means they’ll happily let flies sit on their face, and sometimes, their eyeballs. These robots live programmed lives wherein their fates are already have already been written, unless an interaction with a guest throws their day off previously scheduled events. Even then, once the guests leave, they go back to sleep and wake up with no memory of past events, ready to lead their scripted lives once again.

The entire scientific set up is headed by Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins, who is as hypnotizing as ever), who is in charge of creating and programming these bots. It’s when he installs an update in them, an update that allows the bot to access previous memories and have ‘reveries’, that the bots begin to malfunction, and chaos looms.

The show is unapologetic about its (mostly) ridiculous and over the top premise, and takes itself very seriously, making sure you’re as immersed in their world as they are. The Westworld of 2016 has been created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Ray Nolan, and has JJ Abrams and Bryan Burk sitting as executive producers – all names and talent that need no introduction, least of all in the realm of science fiction television. The casting is also incredible – a veritable coup by itself, for it brings together the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Hemsworth (the oldest of the Hemsworth brothers), Jeffrey Wright and Rodrigo Santoro, among others.

Westworld is only one episode old, making it the perfect new show to watch. To be fair, the premiere left the audience with more questions about the show than answers, but I do believe that it’s by design, for it makes sure that you’re counting down the days to the next episode. The sets are lavish, and it’s evident that every penny of its massive budget is accounted for, but the story is still the hero of the show, which is why a simple shot at the end of the first episode will have you more agape than all the special effects put together. Westworld calls itself a reboot, but think of the term as a technicality, for there is little else that is as original on television right now.

{Westworld is presently telecast on Star World Premiere HD every Tuesday, and is also available on HotStar}

The Let Down

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

On paper, The Get Down ought to be the greatest television show of the year. It’s Netflix’s most extravagant production yet, with a whopping $120 million that has been pumped into the show. The show is acclaimed Australian film director Baz Luhrmann’s television debut, and is co-created by Stephen Adly Guirgis, who has won a Pulitzer for writing Drama. If you’ve watched any of Baz Luhrmann’s films, like Moulin Rouge, or The Great Gatsby or even the nineties smash hit Romeo + Juliet, you’d know Luhrmann’s penchant for creating entire worlds, and it is no different with The Get Down. Luhrmann has brought to life, New York of the 1970s, more specifically, the neighbourhood of South Bronx, where the story is set.

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Ezekiel (Justice Smith) is an orphan who is currently under the care of his aunt, and her boyfriend. He’s a bright kid, with a special talent for poetry, but he would rather spend his time trying to win the beautiful Mylene’s (Herizen Guardiola) heart, than on academics, after all, it’s not like anyone at the Bronx is studying – the neighbourhood is plagued with poverty, corruption, gang violence and despair. Mylene wants to leave the Bronx and become a star, a disco star, but her father (Giancarlo Esposito), who is a pastor in an orthodox, Pentecostal church will not have any of it. One night, Mylene decides to sneak out of the house to participate in a dance competition at Les Infernos, the greatest disco club at the Bronx, where the winner gets to meet with a famous music producer. It is also at Les Infernos that Ezekiel has a run-in with Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), a legendary graffiti artist as well as an aspiring DJ. Shaolin discovers Ezekiel’s talent with words, and takes him to “The Get Down”, an underground party in the Bronx, that’s headed by Grandmaster Flash (Mamoudou Athie), one of the first pioneers of the hip-hop sound. It is here that Ezekiel realises that there is a world beyond Mylene, and the possibility that hip-hop might not only be his ticket out of Bronx, but may well pave his way to greatness.

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The Get Down is a story about music, about two young people discovering themselves through music, and about the socio-cultural impact that music has on history. It’s obvious that the story is well researched, from the music, to the clothes, to the language, to even the graffiti that is splattered across the walls. The detailing in the sets is impeccable, and the show looks every bit as expensive as it has been touted to be. The acting talent is impressive too – Justice Smith, especially, is fantastic as the sensitive poet who is torn about his future.

Theoretically, The Get Down has all the makings of a great show, but on screen, it’s just chaos. There is just way too much that is thrown at the viewer, and despite all that is happening on screen, the story never seems to get anywhere. It’s also hard to ignore the caricaturing – Shaolin wears a belt with Bruce Lee’s face on it, and there’s (vaguely) Asian sounding music that is played each time he comes on screen, not to mention the exaggerated Kung Fu fighting. I understand that they’re trying to portray someone as mythical, but this comes off like a joke. The Get Down, like any other Netflix show, is designed for binge-watching, but it’s far too arduous to even watch two episodes in a single sitting. I couldn’t go through more than three, and the very thought of three more episodes tires me. I suppose the folks at Netflix felt the same way, for only six out of the twelve episodes of the first season have been released, with the second set of episodes coming out in 2017.

The Get Down is supposed to be a story about the gritty beginnings of Hip-Hop during the age of Disco, but instead of an honest, unembellished portrayal of the genre, we get an overwhelming, cluttered, extravagant mess – a let down.

{Season 1 of The Get Down is currently streaming on Netflix}

Out of This World

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Netflix’s most recent production, Stranger Things, released to great reviews and ratings the previous month, with critics calling it the show of the year thus far. I watched the trailer the day it released as well, and it looked very much like a horror series, a genre that I grew to loathe ever since I saw The Ring on television one evening and lost sleep for a week. I avoided watching it, but after seeing everyone rave about the show, and after getting confirmation that it wasn’t of the horror genre, I sat down with the series, and what a great decision that turned out to be.

Stranger Things is set during the early eighties, in the sleepy American town of Hawkins, where the worst thing that has ever happened is an owl mistaking someone’s hair for a nest. Things change, however, when a 12 year old boy, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears on his way back home one night. His anxious mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder) and his three best friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) set out to investigate his disappearance, only to unravel terrifying secrets that have been buried in the town, including a hungry alien monster, a gateway to a parallel universe, and a little girl with extraordinary abilities.

Stranger Things, I insist, does not belong to the horror genre, but there is a great deal of homage that is paid to Stephen King as well as Steven Spielberg – which means that the show does have more than just a few moments of eerie silence followed by jolts of revelation and visuals of reptilian aliens who squelch around. However, it manages to remain tame enough for the rest of us who are still getting accustomed to the dark.

Winona Ryder, who’s probably the biggest, and most recognisable star in the cast, is flawless as Joyce, the agitated and overworked single mother who falls apart while looking for her lost son. She doesn’t know how or why, but she’s convinced that her son is alive and is trying to communicate with her from another world through phone calls and light bulbs – a conviction, that only begets sympathy from everyone she talks to about this, as opposed to an inspection, or even curiosity. Her only hope of finding Will lies with Chief Hopper (David Harbour), who, after initially rubbishing everything that Joyce says begins to encounter mysterious happenings during the investigation himself, and takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of whatever is going on.

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The real show stealers, however, are the (very) young actors who play Will’s friends. Normally, I find most television children to be annoying, but Mike, Lucas and Dustin will want you wanting to be part of their little gang. The boys encounter a young girl (Mille Brown, who delivers an extraordinary performance) during their first search for Will, and bring her home, only to discover that she has telekinetic powers, and holds the key for finding Will.

There is even a little high school romantic triangle that is played out in the show, involving Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Will’s brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and the most popular guy in their high school, Steve (Joe Keery). This angsty hormonal teenager trope seems trite in a show like Stranger Things, but it is towards the end of the show that the writers turn this unnecessary romance on its head and give this otherwise grating storyline a gratifying conclusion.

Given Stranger Things’ storyline with the eighties setting, the curious children and the aliens, there was a great chance that the show could’ve felt overdone, if not mundane. It is to the credit of the Duffer brothers, who developed the series, imbibed a great deal of originality into the mostly nostalgic plot line, that Stranger Things is not a visually superior and edgier mishmash of every alien film which came out in the eighties, but a show that is well and truly out of this world.

{Season 1 of Stranger Things is currently streaming on Netflix}