During Netflix day at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Summer 2016 press tour, a panel was devoted to Netflix’s newest hit Stranger Things, a creepy throwback to ’80s Spielberg films (among other pop culture of that era) and Stephen King stories. A scary-as-hell virtual reality experience was on hand for critics to experience a nightmarish trip through a creepy house (complete with an interdimensional monster coming at you near the end).
Back in actual reality, though, three of the young stars of the series were on hand — Millie Brown (who plays Eleven), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin) and Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas). (They were there along with Winona Ryder, who was about her costars’ ages when she got her own start back in the ’80s.) Given that all of the younger actors were born a good two decades after the era in which Stranger Things is set, it’s no surprise that the ’80s seemed like ancient history to them as they discussed their show.
“It was a great period piece,” said Millie Brown, talking about my childhood decade in a way that I might talk about, say, the Victorian era or something. And she’s right. Many artifacts of that time seem ridiculously outdated even to me, who lived through them, so it was particularly fun when a question came up asking the kids what about the ’80s that they found ridiculous, absurd, or (gasp!) even cool.
“Well,” said Gaten Matarazzo, “holding the giant walkie talkies was crazy. We would play around with them. Like, the antennas would go up to the ceiling. It was like, ‘Whoa. Look at that.’ But I thought it was really cool, because, I mean, like nowadays you don’t see kids riding their bikes [old man editors’ note: Right on, kid!]. You don’t see kids hanging out in their house. Like, in each other’s houses anymore. They’re always like [staring at imaginary cell phone]: ‘Hey, look. I caught a Pikachu. I’m gonna text my friend.’ But, yeah, it’s cool to see like it’s cool to be, like, in the shoes of a kid that was in the ’80s. It’s cool to be in the shoes of what my dad used to do when he was a kid. I just thought it was, like, really fun to be a kid in the ’80s when I was shooting. It’s great.”
According to Brown, “for me it was probably the freedom. Because I found that so many like, the boys got to play such great roles because they had that freedom, and I really want that. Like, I can’t even go outside the house with my mom, like, right beside me, like, ‘Where are you going?’ So I think, like, the freedom for me is like riding on your bike and going to the store. Like, for me, that’s amazing. And also just also like the record player. Like, I had no idea what a record player actually was. It had, like, a stick. It was so weird. And I was like, ‘Hold on. I need to know what that is.’ And I got it for Christmas, so I was like this is amazing. And I got to play a ton of records on it. So I now know what that is. That was great.”
Caleb McLaughlin got some laughs when he brought up what he liked about the ’80s: “For me, the parachute pants. Like, we would be filming in, like, the hot. It was hot outside, and they would still feel really comfortable. I’m like, ‘Why am I not sweating?'”
Stranger Things is now streaming on Netflix.