The five strange reasons why I love 'Stranger Things'

While everyone else is devouring "Stranger Things" subreddits on whether beloved metalhead Eddie will come back from the dead, columnist Tammy Swift admits she's busy admiring all the '80s details — from protagonist Eleven’s floral thermal undershirt to Steve Harrington's Andre Agassi-inspired 'do.

Tammy Swift online column sig revised 3-16-21.jpg
Tammy Swift, Forum columnist.

FARGO — Those of you in a certain demographic may remember the old joke: “I read Playboy for the articles.”

I understand this. You see, I watch mega-hit “Stranger Things” not for the reasons that many others do: the elaborate special effects, the incredibly complex plotlines, the gobs of gore or the terrifying monsters.

I watch it for the ’80s eye candy.

So while everyone else is devouring subreddits on whether beloved metalhead Eddie will come back from the dead, I’m busy looking at protagonist Eleven’s floral thermal undershirt and thinking, “I used to have a top like that!”

It’s true. I actually dislike blood, gore and violence, which means I've watched a good share of every episode with my hands over my face. “Enough with Vecna impaling people!” I will shout at the screen. “I want to see Eleven eat Eggos and giggle about boys!”


What the costume and set designers of this show realize is that the 1980s couldn’t be painted with one broad stroke. The style, sensibility and sounds of the early ’80s were significantly different from the latter part of the decade. And they do a great job of capturing these subtleties.

So here’s my scorecard for the five strange reasons why I love “Stranger Things.”

The Easter eggs: 5 out of 5

I love the glimpses of deja vu as series creators Matt and Russ Duffer slide in references and sight gags from a vast swath of ‘80s blockbusters like “E.T.,” “Stand by Me,” “Gremlins,” “Ghostbusters,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Dawn of the Dead,” “WarGames”  and the Indiana Jones franchise. It’s actually one of the most delightful things about the series, especially for those of us who actually did sit in movie theaters or rent VHS tapes (complete with “Be kind, rewind” stickers) of these iconic hits.

The actors: 4 out of 5

Of course, I love that actors from "my generation," like Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine, are prominently featured. (However, I wish they could have recruited Corey Feldman to be the town nogoodnik.) I also love that they picked largely unknown, age-appropriate actors — who look like kids you might actually meet in a small town.

From left, Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair, Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson and Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield in Season 4 of "Stranger Things."
Netflix / TNS

The obvious exceptions are Natalia Dyer's Nancy Wheeler and Joe Keery's Steve Harrington, who are 27 and 30, respectively. While they are fine thespians, their age difference is especially glaring among the actual teens on the cast. Perhaps that’s why they made Steve literally wear a sailor-suit shorts outfit for most of the third season. All he needed was a giant lollipop and one of those propeller beanies to complete the effect.

The music: 4.5 out of 5

The obvious standouts include the synth-heavy, Tangerine Dream-inspired soundtrack (courtesy of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein) as well as the omnipresent Kate Bush anthem, “Running Up That Hill.”

But there is so much other ‘70s/’80s earworms besides, ranging from Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” and the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” to “You Spin Me Around,” by Dead or Alive.”

I deducted .5 only because I'm really, really sick of Journey.


The clothes: 5 out of 5

Again, the style is perfection . I picked up so many accurate details — from the “cowboy tuxedo” look of denim-on-denim and the puffy “mom” coat worn by Winona to the belted cowl necks, stripey tops and geometric patterns of the fabrics. 

While everyone else was obsessing over what had happened to Nancy’s best friend, Barbara, I was more obsessed with Barbara’s pitch-perfect ’80s outfit as a nerdy teen girl. Every detail — from her awkwardly curled hair and her giant eyeglass frames to the neckbow on her preppy, plaid shirt and her pleated, armpit-high mommy jeans — was correct.

Haircuts: 4 out of 5

OK, so there are some awkward wigs here and there. And some have criticized the longish hair and bangs on the boys. To which I say, "Take a look at my high school class composite from 1983, please." You will find no fewer than half the boys in the class sporting these “Haircuts by Mom” hairstyles. While some of the more fashion-forward guys did retrieve their giant combs from their back pockets to give themselves a Chachi center part, many of them opted for bangs as straight as Shawn Cassidy's teeth.

I will admit that Steve Harrington’s elaborate mullet initially bothered me. Surely, I thought, none of us were really prone to such Tom(Cruise)foolery back in the day!

Then I happened to catch footage of Andre Agassi in the '80s. He sported the Grand Slam of all mullets: a glorious ‘do that was cloud-scrapingly high in front, yet made Billy Ray Cyrus’ boot-scootin’ mullet look like a bootcamp buzzcut in the back. Andre’s coif could have single-strandedly kept AquaNet, Dippity-Do and Aussie Hair Spray in business, while also chiseling at least one Texas-sized hole in the ozone layer each year of his career.

In that moment, I realized that Steve was rocking the Andre. No wonder he could even make a sailor suit look cool.

Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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