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Direct Beam Comms #32


Stranger Things Grade: A

strangerthings_promotionalstill.0.0The new series Stranger Things debuted on Netflix last Friday (July 15) and currently all episode are available to stream.

It’s 1983 and something’s not right in the town of Hawkins, Indiana. Outside of town sits a government installation out of which something has escaped. This thing found young Will (Noah Schnapp) riding home from a game of Dungeons & Dragons one night and stole him away leaving Will’s mother (Winona Ryder), the town police and Will’s friends searching for him.

Also escaped from the installation is a seemingly normal girl only known as “Eleven” (Millie Bobby Brown) from the tattoo on her arm who can do weird things like affect electrical appliances around her and has agents after her led by Dr. Benner (Matthew Modine) who’s willing to kill anyone who gets in his way if it means getting the girl back.

So far Netflix has promoted Stranger Things as a sort of TV version of Steven Spielberg’s movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extraterrestrial and Spielberg produced Poltergeist. And while Stranger Things does borrow elements from this period in Spielberg’s career I’d say that Stranger Things takes more from the work of the other pop-culture titan of the 1980s: Stephen King. Well, King by way of straight to VHS horror films mixed with a pulsating synth keyboard driven soundtrack.

Part of Stranger Things were scary. Really scary.

stranger-thingsIn the beginning of the first episode when young Will’s being chased by the something I can only described as a human-looking shape, I found the hairs on the back of my neck standing at attention. And at another part of the show when Winona Ryder’s character gets a weird phone call I took a breath so that I could hear every creepy thing emanating from the receiver.

That’s not to say that Stranger Things is strictly a horror series, though if I had to peg it in one genera I’d peg it squarely there. It also has elements of sci-fi and a definite sense of nostalgia for the early 1980s and young geek life before video games and the internet changed everything. But it’s not simply some nostalgia throw-back series.

Stranger Things is a show that’s set in the early 1980s but it’s not something that’s defined by that. The series could easily be set present day or the 1960s and would work just as well.

I wasn’t quite the age of the 1983 middle schoolers in Stranger Things but having grown up in Indiana the series gets a lot of what it was like in small town life back then pre-cable. Adults are really into basketball and you may get to watch your favorite show that night or the TV might be on the “fritz” and you might not. If you wanted to talk to your friends and you didn’t want to call their home phone letting the parents know what’s up you had to be creative. And if you were a geek the details in pop-culture matter. In the first episode two characters get into a fight over whether the Mirkwood was in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings which really struck home for me. The details matter to a pre-teen pop-culture junkie, even the seemingly inconsequential ones.

After having watched the first episode the only negative I can see with Stranger Things is that it’s going to be hard — REALLY HARD — to only watch one episode of this series a week and not blow through all eight in a packed Saturday.

The Bureau aka Le Bureau des Légendes Grade: B+

THE-BUREAU-5-1200x520This French series that’s available on iTunes, the first episode of which is free, is an interesting show about spies that feels a bit like the classic British drama The Sandbaggers.

In The Bureau, French operative Guillaume (Mathieu Kassovitz) has returned home to France after eight years abroad on assignment for the DGSE (the French CIA) in Syria. He tells his teenage daughter, with whom he’s trying to rebuild his relationship with, that his job was to “make friends” of certain people and glean any information that might be useful to France from what they might say. He was less James Bond than someone looking to score a little intel for his side. But in Syria he made one mistake; it wasn’t falling in love with a Syrian national, it was lying about ending the relationship to his superiors.

Back home in France things are in a bit of a disarray at the DGSE where one of their operatives has gone missing also in Syria which might act as a domino and bring own several other operations he knew about. At the same time Guillaume, who’s now working as a case officer inside the DGSE, finds out that his love from Syria is also in France attending school. Which begs the question — is Guillaume being played by the other side?

It took a bit for The Bureau to get going in the first episode, and even when it did “get going” it was a slow, but satisfying burn. Here, the agents are less using secret gadgets, gambling at casinos and drinking martinis and more just getting close to important people to glean even the tiniest detail that might somehow be beneficial to France as a whole. But even if their job isn’t like James Bond’s, it’s just as dangerous as since capture of a DGSE agent outside of France might mean death.

And like I said it’s the slow burn, the bureaucracy of governmental work and the life and death stakes of the characters that reminded me somewhat of The Sandbaggers. Though admittedly by the looks of it the budget of an entire season of The Sandbaggers probably wouldn’t cover one episode of The Bureau. 😉

My only quibble with the series is that it’s not easily available here in the US. Overseas in the UK it’s apparently available on Amazon Prime but here it’s only out on iTunes. Which means if I want to watch the rest of the first season it’s going to cost me $20.

So, it looks like I’m going to be out of $20 in the near future.

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This week in pop-culture history

  • 1984: The NeverEnding Story premiers in theaters
  • 1985: Day of the Dead premiers in theaters
  • 1986: Aliens opens in theaters
  • 1996: The Frighteners opens in theaters