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An old television with neon lights on it, reminiscent of Stranger Things.

By Jeremy Bursey

Jeremy Bursey is the author of many short stories, essays, and poems, along with a modest number of novels and screenplays. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Central Florida and currently works at a local college as a writing tutor. He appreciates feedback for anything he offers to the public. He also takes too many pictures of cats and the ocean.

August 16, 2023

What’s Stranger than Nonfiction?

Do you have a favorite movie, TV, or reading genre? A least favorite? Do you even pay attention to genre?

Even though I enjoy a solid thriller, I’m no fan of horror stories. By nature, they end on a down note, usually arriving at their conclusions by way of high body counts or gross imagery, and the villain, though defeated, always rises for another round. At some point, the tension built from unfolding such violent drama collapses into dread. You know the good guys haven’t won anything. They’ve simply survived long enough to ride that same rollercoaster of madness next year. For now, all they’ve done is delayed their demise. How macabre.

Maybe it’s thrilling. But it’s also kind of depressing. Why get my hopes up? How do these stories inspire such a large following of devoted repeat viewers (or readers)? And, if you’re a fan of horror, what keeps you coming back?

Horror is definitely a genre I’ll never fully understand.

Then again, if done well, I can kind of see it.

In this case, I take a huge exception to the Netflix series Stranger Things, a show about teenage nerds who spend their days in mid-1980s small town Indiana playing Dungeons & Dragons and stopping monsters from “The Upside Down,” an inverted dimension parallel to their own, from eating their friends, their town Hawkins, and their world. Mixing the science fiction charm of Steven Spielberg and the creeping dread of a Stephen King novel, Stranger Things is a show that remembers 1980s sci-fi horror with fondness and milks it for everything it’s got. And what it’s got, among plenty other dreamy elements, is a soundscape fitting to the mood. Imagine if John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, Escape from New York) scored your childhood, and you get an idea what Stranger Things sounds like.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A young boy immersed in a reading genre, reminiscent of Stranger Things, stands on a street at night.

A young boy immersed in horror, reminiscent of Stranger Things, stands on a street at night.

 


Note: This next part may seem off, as I wrote this newsletter article in May 2022 and decided to keep it in its original form for this post. Just go with it.


If you’ve never watched an episode of Stranger Things, now is the perfect time because its fourth season is about to drop on Netflix (most of it, anyway), and its creators have promised that they’ll be wrapping up the story in its fifth season, so the show is almost complete. And according to reviews, this latest season blows previous seasons out of the water, and that’s a high bar given how amazing the first three seasons are (in my opinion). This all comes from a show that begins as a mystery surrounding the disappearance of a local boy. It just goes bonkers from there.

So, despite its genre designation (sci-fi horror), I’m a fan, and I can’t wait to see how this whole thing ends.

Not bad for a show that sits in a field I rarely travel through.

But what’s even more interesting is how much I love each season’s official trailer. The official trailer for Season 4, for example, collects various scenes from throughout the season and cobbles them together into a tense package of “choices and consequences,” with characters we’ve grown to love coming into serious danger. It has all of the hallmarks of fan bait, as you’d expect from a trailer trying to draw in buzz. But it also has “Separate Ways” by Journey as its background track.

How does that work exactly? Masterfully is how I’d answer that.

A Stranger Things inspired television set featuring neon lights.

A Stranger Things inspired television set featuring neon lights.

 

The thing about Stranger Things and its trailer history is that it just seems to get me. When the show first debuted in 2016, I’d heard a lot of great things about it, but I really didn’t care. It sounded like a children’s sci-fi thriller to me. Not that interesting. Of course, I didn’t know anything about the plot, but I wasn’t interested in finding out, either. People would talk about the show, I’d think, that’s nice, then go on to other things I cared more about.

Then one night in September 2017, I was skimming YouTube and saw an ad for Stranger Things 2. At first, I didn’t care, but then I got curious. What’s so special about this show that it’s all the rage? And why is this trailer such a big deal?

And that’s all it took because curiosity is a dangerous thing. I clicked on the trailer, just to peek. Watched these four kids huddling close around an arcade cabinet for Dragon’s Lair, a game I used to watch others play when I was just a little kid, and one of them suddenly transporting to this dead world that mirrors the one he was just in, then getting pulled back into the real world where the trailer’s soundtrack finally begins. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

Not sure if you know this, but I’m an ’80s kid who loves everything about that decade. To see these four kids later dressed in Ghostbusters uniforms, I went from not-at-all interested to, “Okay, let’s see what this is about.”

That night, I watched the first episode of Season 1, just to check it out. Again, there’s that curiosity thing. I’d started it at one in the morning, just six hours before I had to be up for work. Because, again, I was just going to check it out. Four episodes later, I forced myself to stop because my alarm clock would be going off in an hour. After work, as tired as I was, I came home and finished the season. And I had the energy to do so despite having slept for just an hour because I was that captivated by what I’d watched so far—a mystery surrounding a vanished boy that’s about far more than what appears on the surface.

By the end of it, I couldn’t wait for Season 2 to begin. But I had to wait three weeks for it! THREE WEEKS!!!

When it finally dropped later that month, I had planned on watching three episodes a night until I finished it, just to savor the experience. But just like my introduction to the show, my plans to space out my viewing turned into an all-night binge. I’d watched all nine episodes that first night.

An image portraying a boy immersed in a Stranger Things-like thriller on a dimly lit street at night.

An image portraying a boy immersed in a Stranger Things-like thriller on a dimly lit street at night.

 

Again, I don’t like horror. But I couldn’t get enough of this new Stranger Things thing. I did it again when Stranger Things 3 dropped on July 4, 2019.

And now Stranger Things 4 is releasing tomorrow (the first seven out of nine episodes), and, well, I’ll bet you can figure out how I’ll spend my weekend.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, I don’t subscribe to streaming services. My sister is the one who subscribes to everything, so I’d watched the first three seasons on her account. But sometime last year, she canceled it. So, to watch Stranger Things 4, I have to do something I didn’t think I’d ever do. I have to subscribe to Netflix.

And as much as I don’t want to give Netflix my money, I will if it means I get to watch Stranger Things 4 soon: the fourth installment in a sci-fi horror series.

I say all of this to make a point. Just because I don’t care for the genre doesn’t mean I can’t make an exception from time to time. If done right—if interesting, exciting, and fun—then the genre doesn’t really make a difference to me. When I’d read Max Barry’s Syrup for the first time, I became an instant fan of his work. That and his two follow-ups are corporate satires, with the second book teetering on the edge of cyberpunk, and, again, I thought both were great. But his fourth book moves into sci-fi territory, as does his fifth and sixth books. But I kept reading because I just enjoy the way Max Barry tells a story. The sixth book, Providence, is essentially a semi-serious Alien-like sci-fi horror with only traces of the same comic humor present in his earlier books. Yet, it’s my third favorite book from his bibliography. It never got boring, at least not to me.

I’d also said all of this because I wanted to make a point about audio, but the theme shifted on me, so I guess I’ll have to make that point next time. One theme per newsletter is plenty.

So, before I go, I have three questions for you:

  1. Have you ever enjoyed a movie or a book in a genre you normally don’t care for?
  2. What are your preferred genres (action, comedy, romance, etc.)?
  3. Name one book or movie from an unlikable genre that you were sure you’d hate but you ended up loving (or liking a lot).

Reply in the comments with your answers if you’d like to share.

June 2023 Update: I ended up binging the season for both parts, as I’d predicted.

A mysterious figure, reminiscent of Stranger Things, stands alone in the dimly lit street.

A mysterious figure, reminiscent of Stranger Things, stands alone in the dimly lit street.

 


Note: This article was written for my May 2022 newsletter, which I normally make exclusive to subscribers. If you enjoyed this article and would like to see more from me, please consider subscribing to my newsletter by filling out the form in the side panel (or below, if you’re viewing on mobile), or visiting my official newsletter signup page. As a bonus, you’ll get access to Read My Shorts, Volume 1, a mini-collection of short stories about corporate blunders and occasional revenge that you can’t read anywhere else.

If you want to know more about me and what I do here, please take some time to explore my site. You may find some hidden gems in your journey.

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