As summer dissipates into fall, our televisions will soon fill up with crime scene romance, wise-cracking nerds, vapid hunks in need of a hug and Season 54 of The Voice. We’ll be saturated with football from Thursday to Monday, suffer through another Kevin James laugh-track hideosity and witness so many election ads that we’ll beg for bleach and rat poison smoothies to end the misery. But do not go gentle into that dark fall TV season – there is still time to enjoy what the summer has to offer. Skip the sunshine and embrace two new shows that are sure to help your summer end on a high note.
Stranger Things is an eight-episode masterpiece of ‘80’s outfits and haircuts, a thoroughly entertaining series about a missing boy, a little girl with special powers, alternate dimensions and Winona Ryder in various states of panic, agony and terror. Matthew Modine, he of such ‘80s classics as Vision Quest, Full Metal Jacket and Married to the Mob, plays a government scientist trying to keep his secrets intact before a group of meddling kids ruins everything.
Created, written and directed by the Duffer Brothers, watching Stranger Things is like slipping back into your parents’ basement in 1987 and getting that bag of new Cool Ranch Doritos scared right out of you. From the theme music and opening graphics to the spot-on banter between the Dungeons and Dragons-playing kids to the ominous phone calls (from inside the house!), Stranger Things mixes a little Stephen King horror with ET-like wonder, then adds a dollop of afterschool special where the cool kids always ruin everything. The end result is memorable television.
Winona Ryder is riveting as a distraught mom searching for her missing son, and the little girl at the heart of the story, Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown, evokes so much emotion by saying very little that you can’t help root for her escape. By the time the last episode ended, I wanted another season to start immediately. So as you reach for the remote to tune into that first episode of CSI Schenectady, pause and redirect yourself towards Netflix. Stranger Things is there, waiting for you.
While Stranger Things should be watched with the whole family, the latest HBO hit series – Vice Principals – should not be viewed with spouses, partners, children, dogs, lizards, parrots, cats, siblings or other familial relations. It should be watched alone with a cold beer in the dark with the door closed. It’s that good. Rarely has a show used vulgarities in such a creative, rapid-fire manner – listening to the two vice principals jaw at each other is like grabbing a front row seat at the Gutter Poetry Slam Olympics – never have adjectives been delivered with such debased grace.
Vice Principals follows two scheming colleagues at a high school in South Carolina, both devastated by losing out on the principal’s job, who team up to destroy their new boss. Danny McBride, from HBO’s Eastbound and Down, created Vice Principals and plays Neil Gamby – divorced, lonely, angry and clinging to his role as school disciplinarian in the face of his crumbling life. His counterpart, played by Walton Goggins, is Lee Russell, equally as awful and tortured as his co-worker Gamby. From a nefarious friend in the TV series Justified to his turn as a plantation owner’s henchman in the Tarantino film, Django Unchained to this role, Goggins is remarkable. He inhabits his character so completely- from his gait to his smarmy smile to the way the vitriol rolls off his tongue - Goggins makes us love Lee Russell. Watch him handle a noisy neighbor or make a very special cup of coffee or try sabotaging the big game. Goggins’ performance alone is worth watching Vice Principals again and again. Never has such a terrible person been so fun to watch.
While the rest of your neighborhood says goodbye to summer with barbeques, lawn dart tournaments and yard work, you should instead hole up at home and watch Stranger Things and Vice Principals from start to finish. You’ll feel better about the change of seasons and will learn a few new noun-adjective combinations in the process.
Stranger Things is available via streaming through Netflix. Rated TV-14 for scenes of mild terror, telekinetic temper tantrums, lying to parents and government overreach. Vice Principals is available on HBO and is rated TV-MA and should be viewed in a solitary manner so as to avoid embarrassment in front of church-going folk and your more decent relatives.