This is how Netflix's nostalgic 'Stranger Things' became a critical hit

'Stranger' debuted earlier this summer and seems to have become a success, receiving positive reviews. Is the show the newest entertainment property to succeed because of nostalgia?

Curtis Baker/Netflix
'Stranger Things' stars Winona Ryder.

The new Netflix series “Stranger Things” has received positive reviews and appears to have been renewed for a second season, while the show’s themes and possible inspiration from, for example, 1980s Steven Spielberg movies raises the possibility that the success of “Stranger” may be the newest evidence of the popularity of nostalgia. 

“Stranger” debuted on Netflix on July 15 and has received mainly positive reviews. The series stars Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Winona Ryder, and David Harbour. 

The series runs for eight episodes. When asked whether Netflix would bring back the show for a second season, Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings recently said, "We would be dumb not to."

According to Tech Times, data company Parrot Analytics found that “Stranger” was the most popular original TV show to be released digitally in America during the week of July 17. 

Meanwhile, Neil Genzlinger of the New York Times writes that the series has “a fine sense of restraint … There are a few good shocks here, but mostly there is patience. None of it would work without solid acting, and the series has that in abundance,” while Daniel Fienberg of the Hollywood Reporter found the show to be “a satisfying, spooky and carefully arced mystery buoyed by unexpectedly strong juvenile performances, a rare and well-earned lead for David Harbour and a welcome comeback from Winona Ryder.” 

However, Ken Tucker of Yahoo TV writes that the show has “a slow pace of thudding ominousness.”

Many reviewers have referenced the show’s invoking of various pop culture properties from the 1980s, the decade in which the show is set. Critics have referenced films including Mr. Spielberg’s “E.T.,” “The Goonies,” and the movie “Stand by Me,” among many others.

Is the success of “Stranger” the newest sign of the popularity of nostalgia entertainment?

Mr. Fienberg writes that “Stranger” certainly borrows from various 1980s properties but that it transcends just fond memories of other films and books. “[The show] is more than just an exercise in nostalgia,” he writes.

Meanwhile, Variety writer Oriana Schwindt notes that Netflix has created several properties based on past TV shows, including the 2013 revival of “Arrested Development,” this year’s “Fuller House,” and the upcoming new episodes of “Gilmore Girls.”

But Ms. Schwindt writes that this focus could alienate older viewers, a demographic Netflix needs. “There’s a very real question about the value the majority of Gen X – and late Boomers that are also a still-untapped customer reservoir – might ascribe to the service,” she writes. “Namely: Is something like a ‘One Day at a Time’ remake, or a ‘Lost in Space’ reboot, enough to make them try it out?... Banking on the pull of nostalgia just might not work for some of those potential subscribers over 35.”

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