Netflix and the power of nostalgia / by Jefferson Geiger


Netflix knows their demographic (read: millennials) extremely well. Like when Pixar made "Toy Story 3," they know what we watch today and what we grew up watching. Because of this, many Netflix original shows and movies are reboots, revivals, sequels and prequels.

Netflix pulls our heartstrings by tapping into our nostalgia. The movie “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” provides hearty laughs and the show “Wet Hot American Summer: First Days of Camp” is a prequel to the cult classic you didn’t know you needed. “Voltron: Legendary Defender” that aired earlier this summer is a rare reboot that is more than just a retelling of the 80’s cartoon. Don’t let the DreamWorks logo dissuade you. The writing and animation is done by some of the same folks that did “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “The Legend of Korra.”

However, it would be unfair to not mention the rose-colored missteps. The highly anticipated fourth season of “Arrested Development” was mostly good but it took too many episodes to find its footing. The jokes of the comedy sketch show “W/ Bob and David” felt outdated. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Sword of Destiny” was thin as a bootleg knockoff. I’m amazed that I made it through three cringe-inducing episodes of “Fuller House.” I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that it’s been renewed for a second season.

The key is to create an original program with the aesthetics of the past rather than copy it whole cloth. Look at what Matthew Weiner did with the extremely successful “Mad Men.” Netflix’s newest original “Stranger Things” does that without being a period piece.

After the show opens with a disaster at an Indiana laboratory, it transitions to four kids playing “Dungeons and Dragons.” Bikes are their main method of transportation, harkening back to movies like “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” One of the gang goes missing and a mysterious girl appears in the woods. The hallmarks of 1980s thrillers are everywhere to be found.

The ensemble resembles groups found in “The Goonies,” “Monster Squad,” “Stand By Me” and other adventure tales. Oversized walkie-talkies, dinosaur action figures and posters for movies like “The Dark Crystal” litter the children’s bedrooms.

This love letter to Spielberg’s vision of the 80s goes further than the set and costume design. The fuzzy opening credits with a heavy synth soundtrack made me do a double take to make sure my VCR didn’t magically turn on. No detail was too small for Matt and Ross Duffer, the series’ creators, when composing their letter.

More than just an homage, the Duffer brothers follow through with the casting of Winona Ryder. While the majority of the cast is too young to remember (or be alive for) the era they’re portraying, Ryder was there in “Beetlejuice.” and “Heathers.” Her presence alone raises the quality of “Stranger Things.”

I’ve only seen the first two episodes of eight so far, but the strong start is extremely promising. If you want to experience what it’s like to use a time machine, watch “Stranger Things.”

This column was originally published in the July 27, 2016 edition of the Valley Courier.