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'Stranger Things' looks familiar

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Lindell John Kay

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

I know as you read this column that Halloween is over, but it’s high time we talk about “Stranger Things.”

If you haven’t seen this Netflix original show, you’re missing out on a cultural phenomenon.

Set in the mid-1980s, the show tells the story of a group of middle school kids who get wrapped up in a supernatural /science fiction conspiracy plot that not only threatens their small town but the entire world.

Chock full of ‘80s Easter eggs, the show feels like a combination of “E.T.,” “The Goonies,” “Stand By Me” and every Stephen King book I’ve ever read.

The recent film remake of King’s “It” shares one of the actors with “Stranger Things,” an excellent performer by the name of Finn Wolfhard. You’ll be hearing a lot about this kid in the coming years.

My wife dragged me to “It” last month. While this version of the killer clown Pennywise left something to be desired, everything else about the film adaptation of King’s novel is perfect, especially the kids.

Maybe I’m just bitter in my old age, but it doesn’t feel like modern shows and movies get kids right like they did in the ‘80s. That’s why pieces of nostalgia like “Stranger Things” and “It” are just what the doctor ordered.

There’s a scene at the end of “It” where the kids have defeated the monster and are hanging around, not wanting the adventure of summer to end. But eventually one by one the kids leave. Then it’s down to the fat kid who has a crush on the girl and the guy the girl likes. Silently, subtlety, the movie shows the fat kid waiting around a little longer than the rest, unwilling to let go of the hope that maybe the girls is actually into him. Then he finally accepts she’s not and leaves the two lovebirds alone.

That fat kid was me. The J Geils Band summed up my teenage love life in the 1980 hit “Love Stinks,” which kicks off with “You love her / But she loves him / And he loves somebody else / You just can't win.”

Amen to that.

While it’s sometimes uncomfortable and embarrassing to watch such truths play out in movies and television, there’s something cathartic about it, too. To paraphrase Alfred Lord Tennyson, it’s better to love and loose than never love at all.

And that’s what a new wave of entertainment is capturing so well. Or I should say recapturing.

King was a master storyteller who never really got his due because so many of the movies based on his work were garbage. But the source material, King’s novels, is full of rounded, realistic characters — especially kids. King really knew how to write about the problems everyday kids face. Then when he put them in extraordinary situations, the reader cared because the characters were so true to life. That was lost in translation by studios that tried to turn his macabre artwork into slasher porn.

I think the resurgence of the character-based horror genre began with J.J. Abrams’ 2011 film “Super 8.” I wasn’t a huge fan of that movie, but I understood what Abrams was doing. The creators of “Stranger Things” must have been paying attention as well.

Watch “Stranger Things” with your kids. It will give you endless opportunities to talk about life before cellphones and the internet, back when arcades were the mecca of teenage existence.

Just don’t spoil it for me; I’m only on the fifth episode of season two.

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