Category Archives: TV Review

Stranger Things (Season 1)

“When a young boy vanishes, a small town uncovers a mystery involving secret experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one strange little girl.” That’s the teaser line for the new Netflix series, Stranger Things. It’s an 8-episode season (less than 60 minutes per episode)  that you can binge-watch on a lazy day, as I just did.  It transpires in the 1980s.

The story focuses on 4 friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp). They play Dungeons and Dragons together, and after one gaming session, Will returns home, but is spooked by something, we don’t know what. He tries to run to safety, but that’s the last we see of him. His mother Joyce (Wynona Ryder) calls the police after she can’t find him, and the police start a search. There is no evidence, and no trail. Joyce and her older son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) are distraught, but try to soldier on.

Elsewhere, a little girl (Millie Bobby Brown) gets caught trying to steal food from a diner. The owner feeds her and calls Social Services, but something’s off about her, starting with her shaved head. She says very little, if she’s the victim of abuse and has escaped.

Something is really wrong here, and yes, the government is involved. There are more than a few influences in the story from the 80s. Without even thinking, I can come up with E. T., The Goonies, and The Firestarter, but that doesn’t matter, because those plotlines mesh in different ways, instead of seeming like this show rips them off.

Stranger Things takes place in the 1980s, and borrows from the time. It stirs up strong feelings of nostalgia, especially for those who’ve lived through the decade. The look of the film fits the era, as does the soundtrack. It’s from a time before Cell Phones and the connectivity we all take for granted, now. Many movies of the 80s used soundtracks created by Tangerine Dream, and this music pays homage. Throughout the series, smaller snippets of 80s songs are used, including several from T.D. itself.

If you have a Netflix subscription, you really need to watch this. It does have an element of horror, so be forewarned, it will probably be too scary for younger and more squeamish audiences. I’ve read it has been renewed for a second season, and I suspect it will be as great as this season turned out to be.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 1)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a new series from Netflix, created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock both of SNL and 30 Rock fame.

In case you hadn’t heard, the basic premise of the show involves 4 women who have been staying in a bomb shelter in Indiana, left there by their enigmatic doomsday cult leader Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. After 15 years of living a sheltered life (literally), they are rescued and set free. The media jumps all over them, and they have a press tour in NYC. They are about to return home, when Kimmy, (Ellie Kemper) decides she wants a normal life, and chooses to stay in The Big Apple. She rents a room from landlady Lillian (Carol Kane) in an apartment she shares with Titus Andromedon (Titus Burgess), a flamboyant, struggling Broadway actor. Kimmy gets a job with a 1%er Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) as a nanny for her two children, a younger boy and an eye-rolling tween stepdaughter. Kimmy doesn’t want anyone to know her past, but it does leak out.

All of Kimmy’s references are from the 90s and earlier. No one says any of the catch phrases she uses any more. Titus has big dreams of making it on Broadway, but makes do as a costumed performer in Times Square. Lillian is clearly off her rocker and Jacqueline is the lonely housewife who’s always trying to do something to get her husband’s attention.

The show is almost done in the style of 30 Rock, but hits different notes. The show is built on absurdist humor of supposed everyday life in NYC. Ellie Kemper is almost recreating her role Erin from The Office, and Jane Krakowski is playing her role pretty much approximating how Jenna on 30 Rock would be if she had become a trophy wife instead of actress. You’d think that was a rehash, but it works. The episodes run 24 minutes or so, and are fairly sitcom-y, but it’s the humor that gets generated from the throwaway material that really makes the show funny. Try to take notice of random signs and quick comments, and you’ll see what I mean. They also poke fun at things like Internet Fame and plastic surgery.

There are several celebrities appearing on the show, most of which are for only one episode or two. I do not want to spoil them, but they are well worth waiting for. Two such appearances were parodies of real people, which made me think of the real people, enough so that I had to google them and see how they are, now.

The first season of 12 episodes is available now, exclusively on NetFlix. If you enjoyed 30 Rock, you will definitely enjoy this show. I do recommend it.