A Stranger Thinks Piece


I started to watch Stranger Things this weekend and by the third episode—which I found to be equal parts beautiful, frightening, and sad—the show had won me over. I don't want to talk about the plot, so don't worry, there's no spoilers here. I do want to talk about style and substance.

Something about this show keeps on making me think of the first, good season of True Detective. For a different reason, it also makes me think of The Americans, every season of which has been very good. Both of those comparisons have to do with style. Stranger Things is mostly style, and what seems like substance, but I can't say for sure just yet. It starts from the title card. You may remember the font Netflix used for show's title as ITC Benguiat, the same font that was featured on the covers of the Choose Your Own Adventure series in the 1980s. At first I thought the font was the same one used on the original cover of Stephen King's Firestarter, but I was wrong. But I did have the right idea: this show is all about the stylistic and thematic call backs, with lots of nods to Stephen King. The Duffer Brothers, who created the show, talked about the title sequence with the A.V. Club, but didn't give the font a proper shout out.

Seeing ITC Benguiat in action always makes me think of unlimited possibilities. It's the same impulse that makes me want to write a book set in Souvenir, the font that CYOA used for the body of their texts. It was a hugely popular font in the 80s, and I always feel an immediate sense of intimacy whenever I see it on the inside of a book. But in a way, using it now would be a short cut, a signal to feelings based on surface appearance rather than any substantial connection. This is what makes me jittery about Stranger Things.

The reason Stranger Things makes me think of The Americans is because both are set in the same time period, but Stranger Things is more stylistically correct. A lot of times on The Americans Philip and Elizabeth only look like they are actually in the 80s when they dress up in disguises. Despite that, the show always nails the time period. They sacrifice style for substance. I'm just worried Stranger Things will do the opposite. That's what happened with True Detective in that first season. For all the style points and Lovecraftian innuendo, True Detective felt hollow by the end, empty. And not the good kind of emptiness, the kind with staring eyes in the elder dark, but just the plain old shallow kind that you can see right through. Crossing my fingers this is not the case with Stranger Things.

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