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Like many people, I indulged in nostalgia this summer watching the Netflix television series “Stranger Things.”
But not because of the content of the show.
For those who don’t know it, season one of “Stranger Things” consisted of eight episodes of about an hour each. The show follows the disappearance of a boy, the appearance of a girl, and some sort of monster prowling the woods. The cast can be grouped as the middle school kids, the teenagers and the adults. And all this is set in 1983.
I was in middle school in 1983, and I really appreciated the set and costume design of the show: wood-paneled basements, the bikes and cars, the corded phones, the down jackets. Plus, there are many allusions to pop culture from that period, most notably the oeuvres of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and Stephen King.
We laughed, we shuddered, we watched two episodes in a row. After all, it was summer vacation.
And the music! That weird electric guitar burble at the start of the Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” never had more significance…
But no, it wasn’t the show itself that made me nostalgic for my youth.
It was how I watched it. Or rather, how we watched it.
One night I gathered the family together, and we sat down to watch the first episode.
Without spoiling anything, I’ll tell you that the opening scene establishes the stakes and confirms that the series will be scary. My son clutched his mother’s arm; my daughter grabbed my hand. We leaned in together.
Turns out the first episode was too scary for my middle school kids, so after putting them to bed, my wife and I watched the second episode by ourselves. That episode begins with a much lighter, funny scene that showed a lot of heart.
The next night we convinced the kids to give it another shot.
Again we piled on the sofa, within clutching distance of each other. We laughed, we shuddered, we watched two episodes in a row. After all, it was summer vacation.
“Stranger Things” had instantly become everyone’s favorite show. Instead of my son playing video games in the basement while my daughter watched “Friends” on a laptop, and my wife working while I played Candy Crush, we were watching together, like I remember doing when I was a kid.
When I was in middle school, we argued over what we would watch because there was only one television in the house. Deals were made, and then we all sat down to watch “The A Team” or “M*A*S*H” or “The Love Boat” together. I’m sure my sisters would have preferred anything other than “The A-Team” — what was on [shudder] PBS at at that hour? — but they watched with me and repeated the catch phrases in conversation (“I love it when a plan comes together!”). Maybe it was crass and disposable, but those shared shows became part of our family rituals.
...it wasn’t the show itself that made me nostalgic for my youth. It was how I watched it. Or rather, how we watched it.
My own family entered a new era on an August weekend, when we drove to Rockport, Mass., in traffic. No one complained that it took two hours to get there, because we spent the time talking about the latest episode of “Stranger Things.” Who’s your favorite character? Did you have any faith in the police chief at the beginning of the show? Do we all hate the teenage boyfriend? Is it scarier because we don’t see the monster? What’s with the lights?
All of a sudden, instead of parent culture (the book "The Soul of an Octopus," the show “Breaking Bad”) and tween culture (“Harry Potter,” the video game "Destiny"), we had a family cultural moment.
This is not a review of “Stranger Things;” we liked it a lot but your mileage may vary. However, I suspect the show will have a lasting impact in my household because of the time we spent together absorbing and rehashing every scene.
After a day of sightseeing in Rockport, we retreated together into the basement and huddled up for another episode.