I mean, just why? We’ve seen all the elements before – it’s saturated with cultural references – and there’s a lot of other good stuff out there. Why has it taken Breaking Bad’s crown as king of our small screens?
I started off by asking google and found two direct answers. This, from the UK’s esteemed Radio Times, doesn’t tell us much and contains a huge spoiler for anyone who’s not yet seen series one.
This article by Erik Kain for Forbes contains no spoilers and is much more on point. Kain says Stranger Things is so good because it's short, with an addictive yet satisfying mystery, and great acting.
I agree about the brevity. A lot of series are full of padding. Whole scenes come across as a copy of another show you saw before. At worst, you feel the show is copying itself, rehashing scenes from earlier episodes. Stranger Things never does this. It references other stuff, sure, but that other stuff is film.
I agree about the mystery – it’s gripping but not maddening. Questions are already being answered by episode five of series one, whilst leaving plenty open. It’s like a cultural pendulum is swinging back after the torment of Lost.
I would, however, add something else – attention to detail.
Every scene contains some subtle but rich observation that get you in the gut. When Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is called upstairs by his impatient mum he doesn’t just reply ‘coming!’ in a loud voice. That’s what would happen in a show that’s copying other shows. He screeches “COMING!” like a banshee. That’s clearly based on real observation (possibly of my very own house on a school morning).
Nancy's love interest, Steve (Joe Keery), isn't merely shallow. His shallowness is finely observed. You get the feeling his character arc is going to be defined by this in a really interesting way (NB I'm only on episode five - maybe he has some kind of epiphany in the next episode).
When Will’s mum (Winona Ryder) gets a new phone to replace the one that was torched by a weird electrical surge, she doesn’t just plug it in and sigh. That’s what she would do in a show that’s copying other shows. In this show, she sits down in an armchair with the phone on her lap. And you know she’s going to sit there for hours. It’s what I would do if it was my son.
This is, I think, why Stranger Things is so good. Great performances, beautiful camera-work and luxuriant period detail are all part of it as well. But I think it's the fullness of the storytelling and the complexity of the characters that lifts it above the herd.
For now, that’s my tuppence-worth. But as I say I’m only on episode five, series one. I’m sure I’ll have more to say.