Sunday, July 31, 2016

Dark Clouds and Stranger Things

The unsettling dark cloud that has settled over the Republican party since their ultra-depressing convention in Cleveland two weeks ago only got worse this past week.

On Thursday Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced charges against six more current and former employees of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health and Human Services for their role in the poisoning of the  water supply in Flint, Michigan with lead.

An environmental crime that directly resulted from Republican efforts to enact drastic budget cuts by switching the fresh water supply to the toxic Flint River.

On Friday a federal court of appeals struck down restrictive voter ID laws passed by North Carolina's extremist-dominated state legislature, toppling GOP efforts to intentionally block thousands of people of color from voting in the critical southern swing state.

But on this steamy last day of July, I'd rather close out the month by talking about the much more ominous cloud that hangs over (or perhaps under...) the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in the amazing must-see new Netflix series 'Stranger Things'.

Now if you're one of those people who've been curious to see highly-acclaimed original Netflix shows like 'House of Cards' or 'Orange Is the New Black' but have held off on signing up for a monthly Netflix membership, 'Stranger Things' is really your cue to quit stalling and sign up.

There is literally nothing like this on network television and if you enjoy quality sci-fi and a genuinely creepy storyline (and monster) as much as I do, you've got to check this show out.

The Duffer brothers (Matt and Ross) have successfully created and written a show that's a fascinating and entertaining take on the classic American sci-fi genre that's at once fresh and cutting edge that also elicits a sense of nostalgia for someone who grew up in the late 70's and 80's as I did.

Lucas, Dustin, Mike & Eleven in 'Stranger Things'
Set in a small fictional indiana town in 1983, the story and aesthetics combine an interesting mix of elements from familiar TV and film cultural landscapes like 'The Goonies', 'The X-Files', and 'Stand By Me' - with more than a dash of 'Twin Peaks' thrown in for good measure.

The premise is simple and reels you in quickly.

A local boy named Will Beyers (played by Noah Schnapp) mysteriously vanishes after an evening of playing Dungeons and Dragons with his three best friends.

His disappearance coincides with the escape of a strange entity from a local facility run by by the Department of Energy - which in true 'X-Files' style is staffed by poker-faced government types.

Winona Ryder's performance as Will's distraught mother Joyce Byers (pictured below) is her best in years, and worthy of Emmy and SAG award nominations; it anchors an excellent cast that includes Matthew Modine as a mysterious government scientist and David Harbour as police chief Jim Hopper.

Winona Ryder in 'Stranger Things'
When Will's disappearance sends the town into a frenzy, a strange girl named Eleven (played with impressive composure by Millie Bobby Brown) with unusual mental abilities appears, and joins Will's friends Mike (played by Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (played by Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (played by Glen Matarazzo) to try and find Will.

And with that it's eight episodes of fast-paced, addictive creepy fun that culminate in a genuinely emotional climax that sets the tone for season two - which I already can't wait for.

For me personally, it was nice to see a distinctively African-American character, Lucas, as one of the central characters.

One that I saw as reflective of my younger self: a black kid living in suburbia who plays Dungeons and Dragons, collects comic books and spends his time outdoors on his dirt bike with his best friends.

As I've mentioned before, I unplugged from cable years ago as I loath commercials and the glut of crappy TV.

But shows like 'Stranger Things' justify my decision and make the $9.99 a month fee for unlimited Netflix streaming more than worth it.

That said I'm honestly not sure what's scarier, the weird things that happen in the fictional town of Hawkins, or today's Republican party with Trump as their nominee.

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