Thursday, 8 September 2016

"Stranger Things" and how I spent my summer in the "Upside Down"

[WARNING: Spoilers! But only little ones.]

Well, summer break is finally over and my little gremlins are back at school. While I don’t usually like to post about my personal life on this blog , I will say this: my summer has felt like a journey through the “Upside Down”, that bizarre, dark reflection of our world on the show “Stranger Things”. Now that the house is quiet and I sit here in front of my keyboard after a long hiatus, I feel like I’ve finally crawled through some slimy inter-dimensional portal back into reality after two months of wandering surreal, supernatural wastes. Yep, my summer with the kids was a complete blur of craziness.

The truth is I love my two boys and have moments of absolute joy with them, but the daily slog of parenting can be so gut-wrenchingly painful, I imagine I feel what Will felt after staying in the Upside Down for too long (although I’ve never puked up a giant monster worm – yet).

I mean, my two little bugbears (bless them) are up at 7am – every single day – regardless of how late daddy went to bed (sometimes 2-3am). This means I’m forced to peel myself out of my coffin (aka bed) to prepare breakfast and basically make sure nothing terrible befalls them (the gloomy crypt in which I make my abode is rife with unseen pitfalls – some mundane, some unnatural – but mostly I have to make sure the two boys don’t kill each other.)

Now that I have returned from that black plane of otherworldly oblivion you call ‘summer vacation”, I finally have some time to ruminate on one of the high points of my perilous summer – watching “Stranger Things” on Netflix.

Something about this unassuming homage to 80’s sci-fi/horror flicks really wormed it’s way into my brain (sorry Barb). In just about every way, “Stranger Things” hit the mark of awesomeness. The story was paced well (difficult for a serialized tv show – I’m looking at you, LOST!), I got to know and root for the characters (even Nancy’s douche-bag boyfriend Steve, thanks to a redemptive story-arc), and I was genuinely freaked out by the monster and its habit of crossing dimensions to stalk its prey. A completely thrilling, mind-blowing ride!

In so many ways, “Stranger Things” surpassed all of the 80’s movies it honours. I was also impressed that the Duffer Brothers contained the story in a tight eight episode run (but of course at the end of it I was crying inside and dying to see more). It kept the pace moving along well, even during the slow bits with the Nancy love triangle or the kid’s initial bungling around in the dark looking for Will.

Since I love to talk story structure, and I found “Stranger Things” so awesome because it executed a cool story so successfully, I’d like to change gears and talk about a story not so successfully executed. Me and the wife decided to fire up “Allegiant – Divergent part 3” to kill an evening, and about 30 minutes in I nearly rage quit the thing. If “Stranger Things” is narrative perfection, “Allegiant” is a big pile of narrative poop.

While I didn’t expect much from the third part of this Hunger Games knock-off, it was so utterly confusing that I started yelling at the screen. Why did this weird experiment in Chicago end up producing a “pure” (meaning genetically unaltered, I think) divergent person, Tris? How?? And why should we care? We are never told why this process is so important, so we are left to assume something terrible will happen. Was the human race on the brink of extinction? Who knows??

The crux of the story – Tris being torn between the future dude (Jeff Daniels) and her friends in Chicago – becomes meaningless because we don’t understand what she’s doing, or why we should care. If her dilemma was ‘save humanity from extinction or save her friends’, that might be interesting. Needless to say, the story fell apart and the action at the end was boring and pointless.

I like to think that consuming different stories – good and bad – can only help me improve my own writing, so I won’t beleaguer the point of how bad Allegiant was. I will say this: I’d much rather brave the “Upside Down” than return to future Chicago any day.

Thankfully, the word on the street is that Season Two of “Stranger Things” is in the works, so I’m looking forward to more adventures in the “Upside Down”. I only have two apprehensions about this: 1) it’s gonna be really hard to top the first season, so I’m bracing for disappointment 2) I only have 9 months until NEXT summer vacation and my own adventures back to the “Upside Down”! I’ve already fitted myself with a Haz-Mat suit for the occasion!

As always, yours in horror and confusion,

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