I swore I had my final word on this undeservedly popular Netflix series, but some expressed interest in how I would have taken the same concept and written it my way. Since I had such harsh words for the show, what would I have done to make it supposedly better? Well, here goes. I know many won't agree or might even find my changes equal to what was done. So be it. Art is subjective.
A few things I won't include in this piece are things I would have no control over, such as quality of acting, direction and casting. This will only be my suggested fix-its from a writing perspective. I'll begin with the most obvious one:
STORY STRUCTURE- The organizational setup of "Stranger Things" is rather lacking. For one thing, it opens in the wrong place to serve the needs of the plot. Starting with the abduction of a character the audience has not grown to care about at all is a huge misstep. One would think that given eight episodes to develop characters, the Duffer Brothers could have at least given us fifteen minutes of the kid before he disappeared. Even "It," that terrible adaptation of a brilliant novel, was able to let us get to know Georgie before he was killed. And that was within the confines of a two and a half hour movie. Whether or not it was done effectively is irrelevant. The effort was made.
Frankly, the series starts in the wrong place regardless of that little dramatic misfire. I'm no fan of "Something went wrong in the secret laboratory" stories, but the lab is undeniably where all of this starts thematically and should also be where it starts structure-wise. If the Duffers really wanted to create an homage to Eighties horror and science fiction, they should have known to start their show in that laboratory. Actually witnessing Eleven's escape would have made here a more interesting character and would have set the tone for the weirdness to come. She could have run into the character of Will, they could have had a brief interaction, then he could have disappeared. Early on both of them would have been established as people the audience should care about instead of two separate incidents with a nary an emotional investment between them.
Also, the plot should have been expanded to justify the amount of episodes. At a mere eight episode run, this show should have been so chockful of story that them Duffer Boys could barely tell it in the time allotted. Instead, what we got was a show so thinly plotted it contained not one by two episodes of filler featuring characters sitting around discussing the plot and their motivations. I don't believe this was an intentional stylistic choice either, considering the overall thinness of the plot.
One way to expand the plot would have been to expand the involvement of the lab workers. Instead of trying to mimic Spielberg's approach to the government agents and scientists in "E.T.," where they were mainly faceless entities as seen through the eyes of children, the Duffers missed a real opportunity to go from archetypes to genuine human characters. It doesn't work here because there are too many non-kid characters.
FOCUS- This rivals story structure in its wrong-headedness. Let me begin by saying I know what the Duffer Boys were trying to do. It's rather obvious, so the kids make sense when considering the influences the creators are attempting to channel. Without criticizing their acting, it's difficult to fault their presence, but here's a story-centric reason for saying they should not have been the focus of the story. If you remove Eleven's interactions with them from the story, the kids literally serve no purpose except to remind us of older, better movies in the same genre. They do nothing except hide her from the Big Bad Lab Folks until the inevitable showdown scenes. They're not particularly interesting or likable and their entire sub-plot could be removed without scarcely a minor inconvenience to the overall plot-line.
Fans of Eighties B-movies know that teens were usually the main characters. Not old enough to have total freedom but definitely old enough to figure things out and handle themselves physically, they're the perfect protagonists to face the unknown. The teens in "Stranger Things" are among the show's few strengths and they should have been, if not front and center, certainly more prominent. Instead of having the kids hide Eleven, the story would have been better served having the teens do it. There could still have been a kid or two present, but the story would have been tighter with this simple change.
No character on this show was better than Sheriff Hopper. Perhaps because he's the only character with more than two notes to his personality, he feels authentic and we want to follow him on his quest to find out just what the hell is going on. Clearly he should have been the focal point of the series (I hear his part is horribly diminished in season two) and all the rest should have grown outward from that.
The greatest misfire involves the people at the laboratory. As I mentioned above, they needed to be better developed. This would have shifted some of the focus to them and their admittedly laughable experiment. Perhaps Matthew Modine's character had a real story to tell, one that would have juxtaposed nicely with Hopper's. I don't care if it turns out we learn more about him in the second season. It's lazy writing to not develop your characters to at least the point of not making them background noise.
PLOT- Once we find out what's really going on beginning with episode three, the entire concept is revealed to be quite terrible. First, the trite idea that this evil laboratory opened a doorway into another dimension that's really just an ugly, unimaginative mirror of our own is absurd. It's also home to the dullest monster since the one in "The Relic." It's little more than a mindless, hungry animal. There's simply no way to develop something that lackluster into a compelling antagonist. Also, having it come from a place that's really just our world's reflection makes little sense within the context of the Duffers' own established rules. Why is there no equivalent here? And while some may say the scientist and his cronies served as the real bad guy, they're far too underdeveloped to mean anything except a stumbling block for the heroes to overcome and redshirts for the monster to kill and eat. Also, a less predictable ending that didn't involve Eleven killing the creature and disappearing would have been nice. How about instead, the creature and Eleven are connected or maybe Will was the creature's counterpart in our universe and a true moral quandary resulted as everyone had to decide it killing one meant killing both?
That's it. I'm done with this show now. I've exhausted my fingers on discussing it enough. I won't get into dialogue because I'd need specific examples beyond that ridiculous Stephen King reference. I also won't go into how three teenagers can inflict major VanDamage on the monster but highly trained paramilitary guys are swatted down like flies. Some of these things are just a given in a B movie after all. But the Duffers had the opportunity to elevate the medium to something much better than its perceived limitations. Instead, they went lower.
Feel free to eviscerate me now!