On July 15, Netflix premiered the Duffer Brothers’ “Stranger Things,” an eight-episode series redolent of 1980s science fiction, adventure and horror films. The show perfectly harnesses the atmosphere of ’80s pop culture and movies by drawing obvious parallels to “Alien” (1979), “The Shining” (1980), “Poltergeist” (1982) and many other classics.
Winona Ryder unsurprisingly stuns as Joyce Byers, whose son Will (Noah Schnapp) mysteriously goes missing in their small town of Hawkins, Indiana. Ryder flawlessly captures the desperation of this frantic single mother as she relentlessly searches for her son. And yet, the true standouts are the 12-year-old kids who bring warmth and sentimentality to the series. Despite her character’s minuscule vocabulary, Millie Bobby Brown shines as Eleven, the strange, formidable girl with telekinetic abilities discovered alone in the woods by Will’s friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin). The connection between Eleven and Mike is infectious and genuine, undeniably similar to the partnership of E.T. and Elliot in “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial” (1982). And while Ryder’s character is in constant emotional distress, Wolfhard, Matarazzo and McLaughlin add lightheartedness and comedy to the series, as if they were the same group of boys from “The Goonies” (1985); both of the ringleaders even share the name Michael.
Despite the various allusions to ’80s pop culture, “Stranger Things” avoids being vapid and imitative, creating an exciting, original story that is captivating from the start. Not a single episode is lackluster, and the series feels more like a seven-hour movie than a television show. “Stranger Things” succeeds in everything it sets out to do, a delight to fans of the genre and newcomers alike.
TBS’ “Wrecked,” although at times entertaining, ultimately disappoints. The comedy follows the survivors of a plane crash on a deserted island, a clear parody of the popular drama series “LOST” (2004). The show relies heavily on the assumption that its viewers will be familiar with its references but fails to create nuanced parallels, simply putting a twist on familiar “LOST” plot lines; for example, instead of finding a gun in a locked briefcase, they find a myriad of sex toys.
The actors hold their own, playing up the physical, slap-stick comedy and committing to the ridiculousness of their characters. However, the show often feels disjointed, made up of individual personalities without any clear connection to each other. Some roles are more noteworthy than others, such as Todd Hinkle (Will Greenberg), the counterpart to a charmless Sawyer (Josh Holloway) from “LOST.” Initially insufferable, he proves to be one of the show’s more enjoyable characters, especially when he develops a friendship with a baby boar, determined to save him from becoming the camp’s dinner. Their partnership is perhaps the only instance of natural chemistry between two characters in the whole series.
The series is highly derivative and lacks any decent material to redeem itself. Neither a clever satire nor a nostalgic tribute to “LOST,” “Wrecked” instead depends on gimmicks, outlandish events and juvenile humor, making the show more similar to a fan-made spoof found on YouTube than a well-developed cable television show.
The gritty new TNT drama “Animal Kingdom,” inspired by the 2010 Australian film of the same name, brings its audience into the wild world of the Codys. When his mother dies of a heroin overdose, Joshua “J” Cody (Finn Cole) moves in with his estranged family members, an intimate group of criminals. They hesitantly welcome him into their dark lifestyle of drugs, sex and crime. J quickly realizes that the longer he stays with his grandmother and uncles, the more involved he will become in their secrets and the more dangerous it will be to try to leave.
Ellen Barkin wonderfully portrays Janine “Smurf” Cody, the forceful leader of the family and the mastermind behind their robberies. Barkin succeeds in blending the contrasting aspects of her character – a loving mother and a merciless criminal – so that they appear to be her natural persona. The Cody sons, consisting of Barry “Baz” Brown (Scott Speedman), Andrew “Pope” Cody (Shawn Hatosy), Craig Cody (Ben Robson) and Deran Cody (Jake Weary), are the muscle behind Smurf’s plans and the glue that keeps the family together. Certainly most notable is Andrew “Pope” Cody; the instant Hatosy appears on screen, it is clear that his character is dangerous and unstable. The only brother arrested from a previous job gone wrong, Pope is intensely loyal to his family but will do anything to avoid going back to jail.
The southern California setting and edgy cinematography of “Animal Kingdom” compliment the story well but don’t distract from the plot’s pacing. The tempo is often painfully slow, making even the most exciting moments feel repetitive. Luckily, the dynamics between the Codys, and the few they let enter their inner circle, save the show from its monotony.