I liked season one of Stranger Things quite a bit. It was an excellent evocation of what it was like to be a white kid in the mid-'80s, riding around the suburbs on a BMX bike during that sharp intake of breath between the honeyed preadolescent innocence of being left alone all day while your parents got divorced and the long, lonely Schnapps binge that is high school.
Or maybe it was just an excellent evocation of what it was like to be a mid-'80s white kid riding around the suburbs on a BMX bike while imagining you were a character in a movie about a white kid riding around the suburbs on a BMX bike, etc.
It distilled the good bits of beloved (to some of us) films of the period like E.T., Goonies, and Explorers—movies that taught a generation of flagrantly ignored and burdensome kids that friends were a proxy family on whom you could always rely. (And other lies.)
Together, you/we could share adventures and solve mysteries that grown-ups were too busy parsing their own anomie to even acknowledge the existence of. And having thus proven your worth, you could then know what it was to feel valued and loved despite what a massive dork you were/are, thereby earning the sense of non-negotiable human significance that earlier generations were either too tough to need or too busy working 17-hour days and being beaten to sleep to notice the dearth of.
These films also served in loco parentis—not merely by babysitting for 100 minutes at a time, but by serving up personality archetypes (unlikely leader/reluctant messiah, rogue bad-ass who unaccountably still hangs out with all the treehouse dorks, freaky savant, chubby smart-ass who accidentally opens the gates to hell by spilling his Big Gulp on it or whatever) that you could use as placeholders until you began, however hopelessly, to construct your own.
(This temp self process was perfected by The Breakfast Club, the Iliad and Odyssey of adolescent narce.)
Anyway, yes, I liked season one. It had problems (a certain vagueness, a certain how-can-we-stretch-this-shit-out-into-eight-episodes-ness, and also I didn't super love the Madballs-meet-The-Cleaner-from-Labyrinth design of the main monster), but they were outweighed by triumphs of conception, ambition, inspired pastiche, texture, characterization, suspense, and immediate identification. And I was looking forward to season two (coming in October), largely because I wondered how the filmmakers would reconcile the coltish goodness of season one with the obviously huge affinity of a large audience.
The new trailer for the second season, which is dominated by a speech about American heroism by Ronald Fucking Reagan, is not a promising indicator:
Now, obviously, this is just an advertisement, so who knows? It's also technically true that Reagan was the president during the time in which the show is set. But the mode of this spot is triumphal. The deployment of the speech is unironic, as if the first response to the sight and sound of Reagan's voice should be something other than the cringing shudder of dread and contempt.
Though he may appear statesmanlike in comparison to certain current commanders-in-chief, he remains one of the last century's truly malignant forces—and not merely while in office; his legacy pays dividends to every know-nothing, anti-education, low-tax, small-government villain who has followed him into every branch of government.
Before I go on, let me say, I know, I know, it's a TV show, who cares.
It's not so much that I object to using a Reagan speech in association with a TV show I happen to like. There's plenty of room for ironic juxtaposition of music and meaning on brilliant TV shows that take place in the '80s. It's that this trailer plays like an effort to lure unsuspecting citizens of Trumpmerica—who may have been put off by all the libtards writing dopey stuff in the show's title font and chirping about Barb on our Facebook feeds —to tune into season two. Like, "hey, I thought this was a show for snowflakes and baby murderers, but now they got the greatest American ever in history on there!"
Or, in the parlance of the times, it's like you go in expecting to see Krull and instead they show you Red Dawn.
That might be good for business, but it also portends a compromise of what I guess, on reflection, was just an assumption I'd made about Stranger Things. It's not that I figured the show was a bastion of lefty ideals—though it is set in Indiana, where the working class milieu depicted in the show spent the '80s suffering under a Republican governor and two Republican senators, one of whom was the honorable Dan Fucking Quayle. So yeah, I didn't assume it was liberal. I assumed it wasn't completely full of shit.
As ever, my colleague Charles Mudede said it better than I can in his review of season one:
...the nostalgia that fuels the show is very new. This is a nostalgia for the suburbs. We have heard of nostalgia for the mud (nostalgie de la boue—country living) and for the ghetto (the pre-gentrification world of, say, Sidney Lumet’s Serpico). But we have never seen a show colored by nostalgia for a period in time when the suburban mode of American life was a nearly universal aspiration or achievement of the middle classes. The suburbs aren’t dead. Yes, most Americans still live in them. But they have been found out, debunked. Young people are fleeing them for the city, while urban poor rush to replace them.
Stranger Things looks back on a time when no one could imagine the decline of this way of life, which was no paradise—there are lots of drunks, a huge car graveyard, and plenty of grit in Hawkins, Indiana (though Ryder’s character manages to support herself and two kids and a house on a retail clerk’s pay). What the creators are trying to capture and make us feel is that distant time and place just before the sun began setting on the suburbs and the moonlight began to reveal the real horror of Ronald Reagan’s America.