Netflix’s first Atlanta-produced series ‘Stranger Things’ has Winona Ryder, ’80s setting

Stranger Things

Winona Ryder plays Joyce, a struggling divorcee with two sons who loses one of them to something mysterious. Check out the 1983 era phone. CREDIT: Netflix

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Friday, July 8, 2016

When it comes to its programming choices, Netflix is not like a typical TV network seeking a particular audience. Its audience is anybody and everybody.

That’s why its slate of originals ranges from edgy political drama (“House of Cards”) to a sprawling historical epic (“Marco Polo”) to 1990s-tinged nostalgia (“Fuller House”) to older-skewing comedy (“Grace & Frankie”).

Its first Atlanta-produced TV series, “Stranger Things,” debuting Friday, is harder to categorize. It features some dark “X-Files”/”Poltergeist” paranormal elements. It’s cast with pre-adolescent kids in the vein of “Stand by Me.” There are older teens testing limits that evokes “Sixteen Candles.” It’s also set in 1983 (in a small town in Indiana) and features two stars who bring warm memories for Gen Xers: Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine.

The 44-year-old actress known for offbeat roles in “Edward Scissorhands,” “Heathers” and “Dracula” in the late 1980s and early 1990s is trying out a regular television series for the first time after a lengthy period out of the spotlight.

Ryder plays Joyce, a cigarette-toting working-class single mom with two sons. Her younger, the bright, inquisitive 12-year-old Will, goes missing after a night of Dungeons and Dragons with his three buddies. Joyce spends the early episodes grieving over her lost and possibly dead son.

Winona Ryder's character begins grappling with paranormal issues in her home related to her son's disappearance. CREDIT: Netflix

Winona Ryder’s character begins grappling with paranormal issues in her home related to her son’s disappearance. CREDIT: Netflix

“I’m sort of old school in my approach to acting,” Ryder told Time magazine. (She wasn’t available for an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.) “Like, if I have to cry, I have to really cry. I’m allergic to the thing they use (to help actors cry) if you literally run out of tears. … Usually on a film there’s a couple of scenes, but this was my first time doing eight episodes of something, and let me tell you, crying all day. Wow.”

Modine, whose notable work includes “Full Metal Jacket,” “Birdy” and “Vision Quest,” was drawn to his mysterious character Dr. Brenner, a scientist whose secret Cold War experiments unleash paranormal activity that is clearly connected to Will’s disappearance. The two actors don’t immediately cross paths, but in an interview, he called Ryder “a casting coup.”

As for Dr. Brenner, “people are going to think he’s evil whether he is or not,” Modine said. “That is yet to be determined.”

The show’s creators and twins Ross and Matt Duffer said “Stranger Things” is an homage to films they grew up with. They even had the younger actors watch “Stand by Me” and “The Goonies” in preparation for the shoot.

The kids of "Stranger Things." It sure feels like 1983, doesn't it? CREDIT: Netflix

The kids of “Stranger Things.” It sure feels like 1983, doesn’t it? CREDIT: Netflix

The 1985 film "The Goonies" was required viewing for the kids of "Stranger Things."

The 1985 film “The Goonies” was required viewing for the kids of “Stranger Things.”

“If you look at ‘ET’ and the movies we loved and we referenced, there’s a timeless quality,” Ross said on set in March at EUE/Screen Gems. “Hopefully, we captured that timeless quality as well.”

“Aside from not having cellphones,” Matt added.

Indeed, while the clothing and hair certainly feel era-specific and songs by Modern English and the Clash are heard, this is not “The Wedding Singer” or “The Goldbergs,” where pop culture references pop up every two minutes.

“It feels present in terms of immediacy,” Matt said.

The brothers were thrilled they were able to persuade Ryder to join the cast.

“We put her through the ringer,” Ross said. “We wanted to see her in this type of genre again. We wanted her going all-out to save her kid.”

Matt, who learned to structure stories via films, said just having Ryder on board “makes it feel like a big movie.” And thanks to Netflix, the show doesn’t require ad breaks.

The series shows how different it was being a kid in 1983 vs. 2016 — especially the lack of constant connectivity with parents.

“It’s a time when your parents can’t text you. There’s this sense when you go out, you were on this adventure,” said Ross.

David Harbour, who plays the chief cop of the small town, said he loves how the dialogue “doesn’t talk down to kids. They don’t write cliches. The characters are three-dimensional. At the same time, adults can enjoy it as well. It’s a show you can watch with your kids.”

“Stranger Things,” with a budget and time schedule befitting that of a major broadcast network, spent three months in Atlanta shooting the first season’s eight episodes in locations ranging from Emory University to the small town of Jackson.

Early reviews have been promising. Gizmodo’s Cheryl Eddy wrote that “Stranger Things” “is so entertaining that it’s totally worth the time commitment, because believe me you will be mainlining the whole thing once it hooks you in.”

Deadline.com’s Dominic Patten calls it “nothing if not a surprising, sometimes scary, moving and successful homage to the era of Spielberg’s ‘ET’ and the 1980s themselves — as well as the films of the great John Carpenter.”

Matthew Modine as the mysterious Dr. Brenner. CREDIT: Netflix

Matthew Modine as the mysterious Dr. Brenner. CREDIT: Netflix

 

 

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