Tell me about the latest sci-fi or fantasy series you're obsessed with, and my eyes will glaze over. I'm not interested. I used to be, though. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was the first film I saw in a movie theater, an experience capped with a trip to the toy store to buy an E.T. doll. I still own a Goonies T-shirt bearing Chunk's face and the words "Truffle Shuffle." Flight of the Navigator and The Never-Ending Story were my jam, and I still have a crush on Han Solo. That's probably why I've fallen so hard for Stranger Things, which premieres on Netflix today. It's got everything a viewer whose childhood was steeped in 1980s pop culture could possibly want: Winona Ryder, Dungeons & Dragons references, a soundtrack that's heavy on synthesizers and The Clash, and a band of bike-riding boy heroes. Even the opening titles look like they were designed in 1983. 1983 is, incidentally, when the show takes place. Hawkins, IN is an Anywhere, USA town that just happens to house a lab run by the U.S. Department of Energy. At the risk of revealing too many spoilers, some scary shit is brewing inside the lab. Soon a pre-teen boy has vanished, an odd girl with a shaved head emerges from the woods, and the local police chief can't help but wonder what it all means. Ryder plays the missing boy's frazzled mother, but it's his friends, a trio of nerds who are into The Hobbit and AV club, who take on the burden of tracking him down. They're aided in their quest by Eleven, the young girl with telekinetic powers and a fondness for Eggos. She's essentially a surrogate for E.T., right down to the bike getaways and the scene where the boys hide her shaved head with a blonde wig so they can sneak her into school.
The boys themselves are straight out of The Goonies. Dustin, the toothless, lisping boy of the group, is Chunk 2.0 thanks to his sweet but clueless demeanor and his prioritizing of finding chocolate pudding even in the most dangerous situations. Instead of the Truffle Shuffle, bullies command him to show off his double-jointed arm. Smart-ass cynic Lucas is Mouth, while kind-hearted and determined Mike is Mikey. His older sister Nancy is more or less Andy, complete with the short-haired, eye-rolling best friend and douchebag boyfriend. Keep watching and you'll pick up odes to Splash, Alien, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Real Genius, Weird Science, Gremlins, and most John Hughes films. It's not cheap imitation; it's an homage. It's the kind of show you might have watched with your fingers clasped over your eyes back in grade school. Maybe you'd have silently crept into the den while your parents put it on TV after your bedtime. More than three decades later, I'm still scared — and still in love.