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The first season of Stranger Things was not a highly anticipated event. It was a highly appreciated surprise. The Duffer Brothers drama, set in small-town Indiana and focused on a small boy’s disturbing disappearance, appeared on Netflix seemingly out of thin air, grabbing viewers’ attention due to its excellent cast headlined by veterans like Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine, newcomers like Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobby Brown, the heart-on-the-sleeve homages to the 1980s and more.
But above and beyond its cast and cultural references, Stranger Things more than lives up to its name. It’s a deeply strange show, both in terms of the content within the series itself, and also the culture that has developed around the Netflix show. (Here’s looking at you, Barb.) As the year winds down, here’s one last look back at one of 2016’s Stranger shows, and some of the strangest fictional and cultural moments it produced.
1. The Upside Down
As the parallel dimension in which the greatest Stranger Things scares exist, the so-called “Upside Down” is a bleak nightmare world owing at least some inspiration to survival horror video game series Silent Hill. It’s an imaginative yet budget-conscious way of realizing an entirely separate plane of reality, its glowing greens and ash blacks creating an atmosphere in which the Netflix show could thrive and surprise.
2. The Demogorgon
Likewise, the show’s central monster, nicknamed “The Demogorgon” based on a Dungeons & Dragons creature, is the stuff of pure nightmare fuel. Created and filmed using an unsettling amount of practical effects, the slick and chilling Demogorgon boasts not just a uniquely disturbing creature design, but also an unforgettable name that’s worth applying to some of the other wretched monsters that rose to prominence in the past year.
3. The Kids Are More Than All Right
As much as the creature and its dark world establish the tone and stakes of the series, it’s the five kids at the heart of the narrative that turned Stranger Things into a sensation: dungeon master Mike (Finn Wolfhard), goodhearted goof Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), incredulous and courageous Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), the mysteriously vanished Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), and most notably Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), pop culture’s baldest and most powerful telepath since Professor Xavier. These unique kids didn’t just thrive on Stranger Things itself; since the Netflix series debuted, the actors have been everywhere, showcasing their impressive song-and-dance talents at the Emmy Awards and beyond.
4. The Rise of Steve Harrington
There’s no stranger fandom within the Stranger Things community than the one built around Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), the heavy-haired popular kid who ultimately defies his archetype and bravely helps his peers face the Demogorgon. (OK, there’s one stranger fandom — more on that in a minute.) Much of the love for Steve stems from Keery’s eerie resemblance to Ben Schwartz, best known as Jean-Ralphio Saperstein on Parks and Recreation. Both actors have publicly embraced their shared resemblance, with spectacular results:
5. The Tragic Saga of Barb
Not every Stranger Things castmember faced down the Demogorgon and lived to tell the tale. Enter: Shannon Purser as Barb, the ill-fated best friend of series lead Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), killed by the Upside Down’s monstrous inhabitant during a party at Steve Harrington’s house. Her death resulted in the start of a movement, with fans brandishing hashtags like #JusticeForBarb, the character transcending her roots and becoming the object of parody videos like the one below. Anyone hoping for a Barb comeback in season two is in for a disappointment, as those involved with the show have made it clear that she’s very, very dead indeed.
6. Good Grief
Really, the world and characters of Stranger Things took on such a life of their own following the show’s debut in July. For example, there’s this surreal video that takes the cast of Stranger Things and repaints them with a Peanuts aesthetic. (Not for nothing, Schnapp supplied the voice of Charlie Brown in the recent Peanuts movie.) It’s just one of countless examples of the show bursting into the mainstream.
7. Stranger Sounds
Among the many reasons why Stranger Things grabbed viewers with such immediacy: the music, a heavy synth score that conjures thrillers of the 1980s, its electric vibe from decades ago providing the dissonant sensation of an uneasy cool. The soundtrack, created by the Texas band S U R V I V E, is available for streaming here.
8. The Babies
As it stands, the final scene of Stranger Things might be its most chilling image: Will Byers, who has been home from the Upside Down for a month, vomiting what appears to be a baby Demogorgon into the sink, and telling no one about the affliction. It’s not just a disgusting visual, it also opens up thoroughly harrowing (not Harrington) possibilities about where the show’s going in the second season. Speaking of which…
9. A Glimpse Ahead
Because one full season of Stranger Things was not enough for one year, the Duffer Brothers released a teaser trailer revealing episode titles for season two. Without context, titles like “The Pumpkin Patch” and “The Pollywog” don’t amount to much, save for the seemingly endless pangs of dread in the pit of the stomach. But perhaps there’s more to be gleaned after all: The Duffers have confirmed that some of the fan theories on Reddit are actually close to the truth.
Head to THR.com/StrangerThings for more coverage of the show.
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