On Barbs and Demogorgons: A Stranger Things Reading List

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In a summer marked by record levels of political angst, Netflix show Stranger Things accomplished an impressive feat. It tells a story of such murky ideological leanings that everyone — from the tinfoil hatters to the vegan socialists — just had to surrender to its expertly executed ’80s pastiche and satisfying emotional pull. (And, sure, all those adorable kid actors.)

Whether you’re still high on the show’s well-calculated nostalgia or already experiencing symptoms of Upside Down withdrawal, here’s a two-part selection of stories to keep you going: from deep dives into the design of the show’s title sequence to a sprawling interview with its creators. See you on the other side!

Nostalgia and Cultural References

1. “Where Stranger Things Loses Its Magic.” (Lenika Cruz, The Atlantic, July 26, 2016)

Amid the universal praise, one main line of critique against the show has been its use of nostalgia as an alibi for underdeveloped women characters, a hallmark of boys-centered ’80s flicks. Here Cruz writes about one of the show’s most interesting characters (and most impressive performances, by Millie Bobby Brown): the laconic, telekinetic Eleven.

For a parallel reading of the show, focusing on everybody’s favorite new fashion icon, Barb, read Genevieve Valentine’s piece at Vox.

2. “From Game of Thrones to Michael Gove — the Legacy of Dungeons & Dragons.” (Steve Rose, The Guardian, July 13, 2016)

Is D&D having a moment? It certainly seems so, and it will only get bigger as the show (and the prominent role it gives the fantasy game) continues to fireball its way to cultural dominance. Here, Rose gives a brief cultural history of the game and its influence on popular culture.

3. “Inside the Mind of Steven Spielberg, Hollywood’s Big, Friendly Giant.” (Jon Mooallem, Wired, July 2016)

In a show full of knowing nods and loving homages, nobody gets a more deferential treatment than Spielberg, with references both big and small to JawsClose Encounters of the Third Kind, and, especially, E.T. the Extraterrestrial. This profile offers a useful synthesis of the director’s career, and focuses on the relation of his more recent work to the iconic movies Stranger Things regularly evokes.

4. “Freddy Lives: An Oral History of A Nightmare on Elm Street.” (Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum, Vulture, October 20, 2014)

A terrifying dream-world you can’t escape? Check. A peaceful Midwestern town thrown into chaos by unspeakable horror? Check. Wes Craven’s classic is another major reference for the Duffer Brothers — and here Craven, along with Robert Englund, Rob Zombie, and others, give the movie the loving oral history it deserves.

Interviews and Deep Cuts

1. “Inside Stranger Things: The Duffer Brothers on How They Made the TV Hit of the Summer.” (Melissa Leon, The Daily Beast, August 6, 2016)

Confession: when I watched Stranger Things‘ first episode I was sure that “The Duffer Brothers” was a pseudonym, an invention meant to spark social-media buzz. It turns out they exist, they’re ’80s-born identical twins, and they have interesting things to say — as they do in this wide-ranging interview on nostalgia, their approach to casting, and what it feels like to have Stephen King tweet about your show.

2. “Stranger Things: Meet the Band Behind Show’s Creepy, Nostalgic Score.” (Christopher R. Winegarten, Rolling Stone, August 1, 2016)

“I could have savings … but I could also have a synthesizer.” Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, the Austin, Texas-based synth tinkerers behind the show’s spot-on soundtrack, discuss their love of old gear and the challenges of telling stories and evoking emotions through music.

3. “Winona Uninterrupted.” (Heather Havrilesky, New York Magazine, August 8, 2016)

Just like the Moby track (“When it’s cold I’d like to die”) that accompanies the finale’s climactic action sequence, there’s something both jarring and extremely satisfying in seeing a ’90s icon leaving a mark on an ’80s nostalgia-fest. It’s always fascinating to hear Ryder speak about her rollercoaster ride of a career, and even more so when she’s in Comeback Kid mode, as she clearly is this summer.

4. “The Stranger Things Title Sequence: A Conversation with Michelle Dougherty.” (Lola Landekic and Will Perkins, Art of the Title, August 9, 2016)

The designer behind the show’s masterful title sequence — which I haven’t skipped once during my two-night sprint through the season’s eight episodes — talks about retro fonts, ’80s aesthetics, and the process of creating the sequence before the show’s script was even finalized. (Bonus: Dougherty also shares some alternate versions of the title sequence that ended up not being used.)