Tag Archives: Stranger Things

5 Years of Blogging: Top 5 Writers and Directors

After a few gaming related updates, I felt like doing a more film/tv focused one, so without further ado, here’s my favourite 5 writers and directors from TV and film.

Top 5 Writers:

5: The Duffer Brothers (Stranger Things): I have to give the Duffer Brothers credit. When new sci-fi shows are constantly failing to deliver (Star Trek: Discovery, Lost in Space, Chibnall’s version of Doctor Who) or failing to connect with audiences (Netflix’s Nightflyers and Another Life) Stranger Things has delivered 3 seasons running, and that’s largely due to their excellent writing producing great characters, engaging storylines and genuinely funny comedy. Stranger Things may not be all that original, but it is consistent in its quality and entertainment value, so the two of them have to make it onto this list, seeing as they have written the majority of episodes thus far.

4: Joel Fields and Joe Weisburg (The Americans): Given that the Americans is arguably the best and most consistently written show this decade, I had to put the two lead writers on this list. Between them Joel and Joe wrote all of the premieres, finales and a lot of other episodes in between, including some of the ones with the largest plot developments. If you’re yet to catch this remarkable (if very slow) TV spy thriller, then the writing is the main reason i’d recommend checking it out. Character development is consistent and nuanced, the plot doesn’t suddenly veer into left field for no reason, and of the 6 seasons, 5 are fantastic and the remaining 1 (season 5) is still good, if uneventful. Only the fact that these writers haven’t worked on much else yet prevents them going further up the list.

3: Robert Holmes (Classic Who, Blakes 7): I like sci-fi, even old sci-fi like Classic Who and Blakes 7 where the special effects are neither special nor that effective. Old sci-fi had to rely on writing and acting to keep people invested, and there was no better TV sci-fi writer in the 70’s and early than Robert Holmes. If you see classic Who episodes on Top 10 or Top 20 lists in Doctor Who Magazine or online websites, odds are there are Holmes’ ones. He didn’t write all the best episodes, but he wrote an awful lot of them. Who’s debt to him is enormous, and that doesn’t just stem from him being the scriptwriter during the shows most popular classic period (1974-1976, i.e. Tom Baker’s first three seasons). He created the Autons and the Sontarans, introduced the Third Doctor and the Master and wrote Peter Davison’s fantastic regeneration story: The Caves of Androzani. His work on other sci-fi shows like Blakes 7 (where his story Orbit ranks as one of the darkest and best) shows he wasn’t a one trick pony. Russell T. Davies has often highlighted Holmes as one of his favourite Who writers, and for once I must agree with RTD. The man was a legend in all things Who, and the show was all the poorer for it after Holmes tragically passed away in 1986.

2: Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag, Killing Eve): Anyone responsible for two of the best new shows in the past few years has to be a great writer. Waller-Bridge’s trademark dark humour and quirky yet believable characters has proved an award winning mix twice now, first with Fleabag and then with Killing Eve’s first season. The news that Waller-Bridge has been drafted into to work on the final Daniel Craig Bond film has got me far more interested in what the eventual film can deliver. Both as an actress and a writer, Waller-Bridge is a hit right now, and anything she writes is going to be something people take note of. Her status as a rising star wins her the second spot on this list, but who knows? If I rewrite this in 5 years, she may top it the rate she’s shooting to stardom.

1: Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Coupling, Sherlock, Jekyll): It’s was always going to be Moffat. Being head writer for one of my favourite shows was one thing, being lead writer for four of them is another. Moffat’s ability to write complex, engaging stories with high quality comedy, horror, suspense and drama makes him easily my favourite writer for television. He has the odd weakness as a showrunner, but his writing is very hard to fault. Just look at the episodes he’s written for Doctor Who: The Empty Child, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, The Eleventh Hour, The Day of the Doctor, Listen, Heaven Sent, World Enough and Time… they are all masterpieces. His hit rate is astonishing (and all the more impressive given the clusterfuck the shows been since he left). Sherlock and Jekyll are great shows in genres I don’t normally follow, and Coupling still ranks as one of my favourite comedies. So Moffat has to take the top spot. Other writers like Waller-Bridge may eventually surpass him, but Moffat’s consistency and great run of hits mean he’ll be my favourite for a while yet.

Top 5 Directors:

5: Antony and Joe Russo: (The Winter Soldier, Civil War, Infinity War, Endgame) The Russo brothers are responsible for pretty much all of the best MCU films, and were a step up from Joss Whedon as the showrunners for the main avengers films. Direction in the MCU is very haphazard – especially during fight scenes – Black Panther looked downright terrible at points in its third act because of bad direction coupled with weak CGI (those stupid rhinos), while Spiderman Homecoming’s major flaw had to be its fight scenes. You don’t get those problems with the Russo brothers – The Winter Soldier is arguably the most grown-up and best put together film in the series, while Civil War, Infinity War and Endgame were all exceptional Blockbuster epics, and I can’t remember any scenes where I’d change one thing about the direction. A very safe pair of hands – and ones who consistently deliver.

4: Ron Howard (Rush, Angels and Demons, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon) Howard’s not the best director in the world, but he’s up there. Just look at the types of films he’s been responsible for – historical biopics like Rush and Frost/Nixon, thrillers like Apollo 13 and The Da Vinci Code and big budget space heist movies (Solo: A Star Wars Story). He’s a versatile director who doesn’t just stick to one genre. He’s been responsible for some of my favourite movies and while he’s had the occasional misstep (his adaptation of Inferno for example) he knows how to make entertaining films and is very consistent at doing so. It helps that he seems to have Hans Zimmer on speed-dial – the two have collaborated a lot, and its a pairing that works – as is Howard and Tom Hanks, who’ve worked together frequently many times to great effect.

3: Rachel Talalay: (Doctor Who – Heaven Sent, Dark Water, Twice Upon a Time, World Enough and Time). Doctor Who’s directors have always been a mixed bag – particularly towards the end of the Moffat era and the transition to the garbage that is Chibnall’s current reign. One who always shined regardless of the material she was given was Rachel Talalay. Just look at the episodes she directed – there’s a reason Moffat kept trusting her with his series finales and Capaldi’s final episode. She excels at delivering the darker, weightier, scarier instalments of Who. So many great scenes (such as the Missy Reveal, Breaking the Wall and The Master’s return) owe a lot to her standard of direction. In a way its a pity she only came in at series 8 – the 50th anniversary in her hands might have been even better than it already was. That’s how good she is!

2: Miguel Saponchik: (Game of Thrones – Hardhome, Battle of the Bastards, The Winds of Winter, The Bells) Game of Thrones had some excellent directors during its run, whatever you think of the writing. But the most amount of credit has to go to Saponchik, who directed some of the shows most ambitious and memorable battle sequences. The White Walkers’ attack on Hardhome, Jon Snow’s battle with Ramsay, Cersei blowing up the Sept of Baelor, The Night King’s assault on Winterfell and Daenerys’ destruction of King’s Landing – all were brought from script to screen by this guy, who managed to produce battles worthy of cinema on a fraction of the budget a blockbuster film would have. Can’t wait to see what he works on next.

1: Christopher Nolan: (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Interstellar, Inception) It had to be really. Nolan is renowned as a director and filmmaker and there’s a reason fans are constantly badgering him to have a crack at a Bond Film. He’s one of the few director you can honestly say has never made a bad film, and might even be the only one who has ALWAYS made great or amazing ones. The Dark Knight trilogy is what he’s most known for, and rightly so, but his other films like Dunkirk, Inception and Interstellar have all got warm receptions from critics and audiences. If he has a weakness its shooting hand-to-hand fight scenes (this is the sole weak point in Batman Begins), but his grasp of action scenes in general is amazing. Ultimately, this is the man who made Batman cool again after Joel Schumacher nearly killed the character’s status off for good in 1995. Nolan’s amazing track record coupled with the fact he’s responsible for 3 of my favourite films means he was always going to come top of this category, and I doubt many people will disagree with that.

Stranger Things Season 3 Review

First Half of Review is spoiler-free. Second Half has full spoilers after warning.

Stranger Things is easily Netflix’s most popular Sci-Fi show. Black Mirror may be better, but Stranger Things seems to grow in popularity year on year. This is in large part to its fabulous cast, including the established veterans such as Winona Ryder and David Harbour, but also the incredible young cast (no weak links among them). Millie Bobby Brown has shot to stardom because of this show, and rightly so. The cast are as good as ever here. The show plays around with some of the established pairings and focuses on new ones – seeing Eleven (Brown) and Max (Sadie Sink)’s friendship blossom is one of the most entertaining parts of the early episodes, as well as a key part of Eleven’s character development (first female friend she’s really had). Dustin and Steve’s comedy bromance also returns, and is only enhanced by their adventures with snarky newcomer Robin (Maya Hawke) and Erica, Lucas’ precocious younger sister. While I took to Robin immediately, I wasn’t sure about Erica’s inconclusion till about the halfway point, where I began to warm to her (pairing her and Dustin up as a team really worked). Lucas and Mike get their share of moments too, but Will has the standout ones amongst the boys with Noah Schnapp nailing Will’s PTSD and struggles to adapt to the fact his friends has changed since previous seasons. If any characters are poorly served, its arguably Nancy and Jonathan – their storyline at the Hawkins Post newspaper may have a political point to prove, but it isn’t that entertaining or even interesting. Fortunately, by episode 5 they’re back helping the youngsters and instantly get better material to deal with.

Visually, the show looks as good as ever (has Netflix ever hired a bad director? Yet to see it – BBC take note) and the special effects are great throughout. The new monster is far more imposing and memorable than the Demodogs in Season 2, but is somewhat undermined by the fact it doesn’t kill anywhere near as many as the less-powerful Demogorgon in Season 1 managed. Still, its horrific in its design and inventive in how it gets created, so I won’t criticise it too much. Arguably the season’s human villains are more memorable, particularly the grizzled, Schwarzenegger-esque thug who has several brutal fights with Hopper over the course of the season.

The humour can be hit and miss (Dustin’s group gets the best of it, Mike and Lucas less so) but mostly it works well and establishes a lighter tone. Arguably too light – while the writers were clearly deliberately drawing a line between the light-hearted, hormonal teen dramas and the horrific mind flayer plot, it ends up slightly jarring – seasons 1 and 2 were more consistently dark in tone, but with great lashings of charm and humour to lighten the mood. I have to say I preferred that approach – this season is entertaining, but it lacks the persistent tension of earlier sessions (at least for the first four episodes – the last four were definitely better balanced and to my mind, more effective). Ultimately though, the writers do a good job – the character arcs all make sense and feel realistic and earned, and while there are undoubtedly plot holes and conveniences, they tend to be minor blips rather than irritating missteps.

Overall, its an entertaining, visually splendid instalment of one of Netflix’s best shows. The writers keep the plot grounded for the most part, and showcase the talent of the wonderful actors involved. However, for all that, its probably my least favourite of the three – but given how good the first two were, that doesn’t mean all that much. Just don’t make us wait as long for season 4, okay Duffer Brothers?

For those of you wishing to avoid, spoilers, my season rating is below, so stop there.

Rating: 4 out of 5

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!!! DON’T READ ON UNLESS YOU’VE SEEN THE FINALE!!

Kudos to Dacre Montgomery – he made Billy someone you could empathise with and even feel a bit sorry for – which isn’t easy when he was so unlikable in season 2 and helped the mind flayer (unwillingly or not) kill a lot of people in S3. Sadie Sink in particular helps us care about Billy’s fate – whatever the issues between them, its clear that Max wants to save her step-brother if she can, which only makes his heroic sacrifice to save Eleven all the more tragic. His death wasn’t exactly a surprise – I’d called well before the season started, but it hit hard nonetheless.

Somewhat surprisingly, so did Alexei’s. Given that he was working for the bad guys and seemed quite a dick in episode 6, the show did well to make us care about him. His banter with Murray and his obvious joy at experiencing an American Fair did much to humanise him – which made his callous execution all the more horrific.

But obviously, the big hit is Hopper. He wasn’t particularly likeable this season, but ultimately, he was there to do the right thing, and this time, his decision to risk all in the final episode cost him. At least, we think it did. The post-credits scene in Russia cast some doubt on his death, but Hopper isn’t the only possibility for the American prisoner. Who knows – maybe the Russians snatched Murray after their base was shut down. Or maybe, just maybe… Eleven’s Father from S1 isn’t dead. Hell, if they know about Eleven, it might even be her Mother they’ve kidnapped or maybe her ‘Sister’ 8 from Season 2. To be honest, any of those options is preferable to Hopper – its too obvious and too easy a way out. Besides – could you imagine the effect on Eleven if she believes its Hopper they’ve got and it turns out to be Father instead? That would really be a great twist for S4.

Next: Reviews of other Netflix titans, such as Jessica Jones, Black Mirror and Orange is the New Black will follow in the next few weeks – along with Spiderman: Far from Home.

 

5 Sci-Fi Shows to watch instead of the New Doctor Who

Since I made the decision to give up on Chibnall’s travesty of a Doctor Who series, I have felt a palpable sense of relief. Sunday evenings are considerably less depressing now. For those of you in the same boat, I thought I’d recommend a few alternate ways for you to experience some good science fiction on TV. So here’s 5 of my favourites, all of which are considerably better value than any more hours with Whittaker’s Doctor will be.

1. Red Dwarf: The UK’s second longest-running Sci-fi series, Red Dwarf is about as far as you can get from Who. Political Correctness is usually mocked rather than adhered to. Comedy takes precedence over drama. The episodes are all around 30-40 minutes long. None of the characters are meant to be role-models, so they often get pushed into greyer territory. Most importantly, the series is meant for adults, not children, so we don’t get all this nauseating kindergarten-morality and dumbed-down explanations shoved in. As for the quality of the series, it is admittedly variable, but there’s some great runs in there (Series 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7 are bloody brilliant) and even the more recent series, which can be comparatively weak, occasionally throw up an absolute gem of an episode (Series 8’s ‘Cassandra’, Series 10’s ‘Dear Dave’, Series 12’s ‘Mechocracy). The main cast are all brilliant, featuring Craig Charles (Corrie, Robot Wars) as the slobbish Lister, Chris Barrie (Lara Croft films) as the incompetent elitist Rimmer, Danny John-Jules (of this year’s Strictly) as the Self-Absorbed Cat and Robert Llewellyn (some tech shows on channel 5) as the subservient mechanoid Kryten. The interplay between the four of them is brilliant, and makes even less-funny instalments of the series watchable. The science fiction elements are quite good too, even if done in a knockout way. We get holograms, demented droids, time-travel, virtual reality and a lot of shade being thrown at Star Trek. What more could you want? Available on Netflix and UKTV play.

High Point: Series 6. One episode got a BAFTA nomination, but to be honest, all 6 episodes are comedy gold.

Low Point: Back to Earth. It may have got the series re-commissioned on Dave, but this three part special is short on laughs and high on stupidity.

2. Star Trek: Voyager: If you fancy a more serious alternate to Doctor Who, Star Trek is the obvious option that springs to mind from across the pond. With aliens, space battles, timey-wimey episodes and a MUCH larger budget than Doctor Who, it seems like a natural fit for Whovians. But which one to go for? Trekkies would probably either recommend the Original Series (the one with William Shatner as Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Spock) or the Next Generation (with Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard). Both have their plus points, as does Deep Space Nine (the third series), but to be honest, they can all be hard to get into, as they’ve either aged a lot or don’t have stellar first series. I’d recommend avoiding Enterprise (the least loved prequel series) or Discovery (Netflix’s appalling spin-off). Personally, i’d go for Voyager. It’s got a more episodic feel to it, which makes it more accessible to casual viewers and people who aren’t all that familiar with Star Trek. It also has arguably the most engaging cast of any of the Star Trek shows. It’s very much an ensemble piece, including Kate Mulgrew (Orange is the New Black) as the formidable Captain Janeway, Robert Beltran as her stalwart but spiritual First Officer, Robert Picardo as the ship’s hologrammatic Doctor (who has a terrible bedside manner), Tim Russ as Tuvok, a Vulcan Security Officer, Roxanne Dawson as the half-Klingon engineer with serious anger issues and Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, a reformed Borg Drone (and arguably the best character in Star Trek) who turns up in Season 4. The show has a unique plot compared to most Star Trek series, as Voyager sees the crew utterly cut off from Star Fleet and any human contact, allowing for more inventive stories and a whole host of recurring alien races, most notably the Borg. The Borg are Star Trek’s answer to Cybermen, but honestly, it uses them far better than Modern Who has used the Cybermen. The Borg are relentless, genuinely scary, and while they do get overused later in Voyager’s run, they never outstay their welcome. The show was made in the late 90’s, so the effects still hold up very well, and while there’s a few bad episodes in the shows seven seasons, most are enjoyable on some level (and crucially, less dull than some of the other Star Trek series). Ultimately, this is probably my favourite Sci-Fi series at the moment. Best of all – its all on Netflix.

High Point: Seasons 4, 5 and 7 are very, very good. There’s so many strong episodes its hard to narrow that down much further.

Low Point: The Early part of Season 2 and the Middle Part of Season 3 are pretty bad, but both series’ eventually recover to finish on highs, so stick with it.

3. Blakes 7: While Red Dwarf is the UK’s second most known Sci-fi show, arguably the second best one is Blakes 7, which ran for four series from 1978-1981. It was created by Terry Nation, the man who created the Daleks for Doctor Who, and reflected the bleak, dark nature of his worldview and stories. Often described as ‘Robin Hood in space’ or ‘the dirty dozen’ in Space, it featured a regular cast of between five and seven rebels fighting against the tyrannical federation, a totalitarian regime that had control over Earth and the majority of human colonies in the milky way. Like Voyager, it works because of the characters, who are all various shades of grey, whether heroes or villains. There’s no boring ‘black and white’ morality here – the majority of rebels are convicted criminals (thieves, hackers, smugglers, murderers) and are somewhat justifiably presented by the federation as terrorists, while the villains are generally complex characters and never just moustache twirling villains. On the rebel side, you have the titular Blake, a fanatical but generally well-meaning leader, Vila, a cowardly thief, Jenna, a no-nonsense smuggler, Cally, a telepathic gunslinger/medic, Gan, a hulking if dim-witted giant and Avon, a thoroughly duplicitous hacker played by the marvellous Paul Darrow, who proved so popular he took over as lead actor for series 3 and 4. The villains include Travis, a ruthless federation officer with a penchant for leather outfits, and Servalan, his female superior, who is notably one of the first ever female villains in sci-fi and radiates power, malevolence and dangerous beauty throughout. There are some similarities to Classic Who and Classic Star Trek, but Blakes 7 is very much its own thing. While aliens play a part in events, its one of those sci-fi shows where humans are very much the real villains. There’s few high-concepts like time-travel, though teleportation and high-speed space travel play a big part. Overall its a gritty, dark thoroughly adult sci-fi show, which is still remembered on account of it having one of the bleakest and most infamous endings of any TV show. You have been warned. (For god’s sake don’t look it up in advance – that would be akin to spoiling the Red Wedding). You can buy the complete box set for around £20, which is pretty damn good for 52, fifty minute episodes.

High Point: Avon might just be the best anti-hero in Science fiction, while Servalan is definitely one of the all-time great female sci-fi villains.

Low Point: The special effects vary between dire and mediocre. Blame the BBC for giving it a shoestring budget.

4. Stranger Things: If you’re after something more modern, the best current sci-fi show I can think of is Stranger Things. I’ve reviewed it before, so I won’t go into as much detail, but Stranger Things is a great episode of how to mix drama, comedy, horror and fantasy into one great Science Fiction show. Set in the 80’s, it feels like a homage to a whole variety of 80’s cult and sci-fi films, including Aliens and many Spielberg films. The direction is universally good, the writing is consistently strong (even if both seasons take 3-4 episodes to properly get going) and the music is absolutely sublime. But the main reason you’ll stick with it is the cast, featuring established greats like Winona Ryder, Sean Astin, Dave Harbour and Paul Reiser, but also young stars like Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard. Given how often Star Trek and Doctor Who have been let down by poor child-actors, it’s refreshing to see an adult-oriented show that actually has a really engaging young cast. The sci-fi elements are really great, featuring alternate dimensions and creepy government labs, you’ll have seen it all before, but not as compellingly done as it is here. On Netflix, you’ll probably binge the whole thing in 4 or 5 days.

High Point: Hard to say, but the last three episode of season 1 and episodes 5-9 of season 2 are unmissable television.

Low Point: The first few episodes may not hook you, but there isn’t really a bad one so far. It’s a pretty consistent show to be honest.

5. (Classic) Doctor Who: Slight cheat this, but given how few ‘fans’ have ever really gone back and watched the classic series its a valid option, and given its stories are normally 4-6 part instalments of 25 minutes each, it feels quite different from the Doctor Who you’re probably used to. Given there are 26 series from 1963-1989, featuring 7 very distinct Doctors (most people would plump for Tom Baker or Patrick Troughton as the best, but Jon Pertwee is up there too) you can sate your fix for Doctor Who without bearing with Chibnall’s clusterfuck or re-watching Eccleston-Capaldi for the umpteenth time. While you may struggle with the cheap and lacklustre special effects and some mediocre stories and companions, there’s plenty of great Doctors, great companions (Sarah Jane, The Brigadier, Jamie, Ian and Barbara, K9, Romana – just to name a few) and some stories that are equal to anything the modern series has produced: The Invasion (1969), Inferno (1970), Genesis of the Daleks (1975), Earthshock (1981), The Caves of Androzani (1984) and Remembrance of the Daleks (1988) are all some of my (and the fanbases) favourites, and are good ones to try out to see if you can handle the classic era. Don’t start with Hartnell and go chronologically – the majority of bad who stories come from either the early 60’s or the mid eighties. I’d recommend you start from Patrick Troughton’s second series (The Tomb of the Cybermen onwards) through to when Peter Davison exits. You’ll find the odd bad episode, but you’ll get some of the best Dalek and Cybermen stories out there, as well as seeing the introductions of Davros, the Master, the Sontarans, the Silurians, the Ice Warriors and UNIT, so there’s plenty of things to watch out for. Just don’t expect it to look anywhere near as good as the modern series. It doesn’t. The direction can be quite good though, even if the composers aren’t in Murray Gold’s league. Not all the episodes are easy to find, but many are on dailymotion and most are relatively cheap to buy on dvd.

High Point: Tom Baker’s 2nd (1975), 3rd (1976) and 5th (1978) series are about as good as you can get, but Pertwee’s 1st series (1970), Sylvester McCoy’s last series (1989) and Patrick Troughton’s third series (1969) all feature some great stories and are pretty good throughout.

Low Point: There’s some really bad William Hartnell stories, and Colin Baker’s tenure was very hit-and-miss, but you can’t get worse than McCoy’s first series in 1987. It’s probably the only one worse than the series currently airing. It features four stories, all of which are bad, and Bonnie Langford’s Mel has to be the worst companion in the series 55-year history.

So there you go: my take on some shows disillusioned Whovians might appreciate at the moment. Or you can just go and rewatch Torchwood. Your call!

Stranger Things: Season 2 Review

Starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Sean Astin and Paul Reiser.

TV shows tend to hit their stride a bit more in their second season than they did in their first run. This is true for everything from Doctor Who to Arrow to The Grand Tour. This tends to be because showrunners have the chance to look at the first series and iron out any obvious issues that annoyed fans or critics the first time round. The only reason shows can tend to be worse in their second season is if there have been substantial cast changes or there wasn’t a good enough story arc/idea to merit a sequel in the first place. Stranger Things’ cast remained consistent from Series 1, so its continued success was always going to be down to whether the showrunners had a good, clear idea of what the show should do going forward. Good news – they absolutely did.

The show hits the ground running pretty quickly compared to season 1. While the first two episodes mainly serve as exercise in introducing new characters (such as Max [Sadie Sink], a love interest for Dustin and Lucas, and Joyce’s new boyfriend, played by Sean Astin aka Samwise Gamgee) and seeing how the land lies after the events of the season 1 finale (Mike still waiting for Eleven, Nancy’s guilt over Barbara’s death, Will suffering from PTSD etc.) things pick up pretty quickly from episode 3 onwards. The cliffhangers feel more meaningful this time, particularly the ones in episodes 6 and 8. Episode 6’s cliffhanger is exacerbated by the fact that you have to wait a whole chapter to see the resolution, since episode 7 purely focuses on Eleven’s journey (yet still remains extremely engaging). There’s less annoying character moments this time as well (apart from Mike being a dick to Max, though given how much Eleven’s disappearance and Will’s trauma put him through this season its understandable). Paul Reiser (aka Burke from Aliens) also joins the cast as a government doctor at Hawkins lab, and it is pleasingly unclear for most of the season what his true morals/motivations are.

The shows’ production remains largely faultless. The music fits perfectly. The direction and effects mesh together nicely. The dialogue is never clunky or cringeworthy. There are more humorous moments than in season one. Their are less genre-based clichés this time (the government agency isn’t wholly evil for once). The storyline is engaging. If it wasn’t for the fact that you can see where most of the character arcs are headed (i.e. Eleven’s decision at the end of chapter 7/which of Dustin or Lucas that Max will end up with) and the sense that most of the characters are too important for the show to kill off (Will is the only one of the young cast you ever feel is in real danger, ditto Steve amongst the young adults) I’d have no issues with this show at all. However, while the predictability is a shame, rather like in Game of Thrones season 7, you’ll be having too much fun to really care.

Overall Stranger Things 2 is an improvement on the first series in almost every regard. The new cast members slot in seamlessly, the music and direction remain a standout, and the season hits its stride much earlier than the first one did. Only its predictability prevents me giving this a perfect rating.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My next review will probably be Jessica Jones season 2, followed by Black Panther when I finally get around to watching it.

Stranger Things Season 1 Review

Starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobby Brown.

Minor Spoilers only. Everything mentioned is given away by an episode title or trailers.

So I finally got around to watching it. I don’t tend to binge watch many series (House of Cards and Orange is the New Black aside) but I watched the entirety of Season 1 on Tuesday and didn’t regret a thing. With my interest in Doctor Who and Star Trek flagging (Who’s last series sapped my enthusiasm and I can’t seem to get into any Trek series other than Voyager) I’ve been looking for a new sci-fi fix. Black Mirror is up there, but Stranger Things is even better. It’s mix of teen/coming of age storylines, sci-fi, horror and fantasy makes it appealing to a wide audience and, for anyone who is sick of everything in film and TV being set in New York, London or Los Angeles, its small country town setting is refreshing. Also, its only 8 episodes, which means it avoids the normal Netflix trap of being stretched out several episodes beyond its natural runtime (see Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Defenders and House of Cards’ last 3 seasons).

For those yet to watch it, the series is set in Hawkins, a small sleepy town in Indiana, USA. It revolves around the disappearance of Will Byers, a young boy, and the appearances of both Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a young girl who has escaped a nearby government lab, and an unknown Monster terrorizing the local woods. The focus is split between Will’s family (his older loner brother Jonathan and his increasingly hysterical mother Joyce, played by Winona Ryder), Will’s best friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin and Lucas, local cop Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and Mike’s sister older Nancy.

Most of the time is spent with Mike, Dustin and Lucas, who take it upon themselves to find Will, while also trying to keep Eleven hidden from both their parents and the government agents looking for her. Hinging a series on young actors always carries some risk, but the quartet are all well-acted and, for the most part, relatable and engaging characters. Winona Ryder is also a great asset to the series, in a role that in the hands of a lesser actress might come across as irritating, as she starts to realise her son’s disappearance is not due to anything natural. Nancy’s story looks predictable at first as she falls for local bad-boy Steve, but after she becomes entangled with Will and his hunt for his brother’s kidnapper, she becomes one of the stronger parts of the show. Local cop Hopper likewise could have come across as a cliché, but David Harbour plays the role with such charm and understated turmoil that you can’t help but root for him.

It isn’t a flawless series. There are genre-based clichés everywhere you look (shifty government labs, terrible father figures, easily resolved cliffhangers etc.) but that’s probably inevitable given the amount of things Stranger Things is a homage to. The show is also largely predictable and plays out pretty much the way you expect. But, to be honest, if you can see past these issues, there’s precious little else that will annoy you. The direction and effects maintain a very high standard throughout, while the soundtrack is extremely effective and the 80’s songs that play intermittently are as well chosen as Guardian of the Galaxy’s were. The dialogue is never cringeworthy or clunky, and all of the actors put in good performances.

Ultimately, that’s the main reason this show works so well: the characterisation. Even supporting characters that seem irritating in the first few episodes (such as Mike’s friend Lucas and Nancy’s love interest Steve) have character arcs that make them more likeable later down the line. The antagonists, whether school bullies or heartless government creeps, aren’t exactly developed much as characters but serve their purpose well enough, and you will feel immensely satisfied when they get their comeuppance in latter episodes. Arguably its the Monster that works best out of the shows villains, as it feels suitably scary and animalistic without straying too close to creatures from other sci-fi or horror series.

Overall, the first season of Stranger Things is engaging throughout, but only really starts to grip you in its second half where the various plotlines start meshing and bringing the characters together more. The production is fautless, even if the plot utilizes too many genre clichés to be considered particularly original. The acting is universally strong and the characterisation is of a higher standard than at least 90% of other TV shows, and that’s the real reason I’d recommend this above most of Netflix’s other shows.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve already binged Season 2 so expect a review of that to be up soon (probably Saturday). Like this one I’ll keep it spoiler free. Good news: its even better than season 1.