A huge part of the charm of Netflix hitis its 1980s setting. The Hawkins gang doesn't have cellphones (though Dustin is quite a hand with a ham radio), and their computer use is pretty primitive. But in addition to noting what they don't have, viewers can enjoy the 1980s (and 1970s) elements as a nostalgic stroll down memory lane.
I'm a retro pop culture junkie, and co-authored two books about lost toys, tastes and trends. (Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? focuses on the 1970s and 1980s, and The Totally Sweet '90s is about, duh, the 1990s.) So when I binge-watched in order to write my , I kept noticing the old-school details that the Duffer Brothers sprinkled throughout the show.
Here's a look at my totally tubular favorites.
Look, I'm just saying that the paperboy-eye view that begins the new season looks like Paperboy, the classic 1985 Atari game, that's all. Probably a coincidence.
Young Eleven and the other experiment kids have a playroom called the "rainbow room," for its colorful wall paint. Long before the rainbow became associated with the LGBT community, it had a renaissance in late 1970s/early 1980s decor. I remember owning a heart-shaped cloissone lapel pin with a rainbow and my name (misspelled, duh), and putting a rainbow sticker in my bedroom window, much to my parents' chagrin when it was discovered it didn't really peel off easily.
Joyce Byers is seen desperately trying to sell encyclopedias over the phone. Telemarketing was one of the few jobs that could be done from home back in the 1980s, and encyclopedia sets were still something many homes had. (Ask any 1980s kid who had to do a last-minute book report after the library was closed.) They were helpful as heck, but became outdated before they hit your shelves. In the set of World Book encyclopedias that my parents had, printed in 1962, John F. Kennedy is eternally president.
Dungeons & Dragons/Satanic Panic
Lucas, Dustin, Mike, Will, Erica and new character Eddie Munson (sounds like "Eddie Munster," no?) are all avid Dungeons & Dragons players. It's not like viewers of today are unfamiliar with the fantasy role-playing game, but they may be surprised at how horrified Hawkins parents and jocks are by it. The game has been unfairly blamed for murders (Google the Chris Pritchard case) and other troubling events (James Dallas Egbert III's 1979 disappearance). Truth be told, if Eddie, who looks a lot like late rocker Eddie Van Halen, wasn't a D&D player, he'd probably be conflated with Satanism anyway, just for his heavy-metal hair. Long hair on males was still stereotyped big-time in the 1980s.
Steve and Robin worked at a mall ice cream shop, Scoops Ahoy, in season 3. In season 4, they work at Family Video, a video rental store. In 1985, there were 15,000 video-rental stores in the US, and 25,000 by 1988. (Spoiler: There are a lot fewer now.) Steve and Robin's video store job comes in handy several times, including when Robin looks up all customers named "Rick" to see if she can find Eddie's drug dealer. Conveniently, he rented a lot of Cheech and Chong movies.
Lucas Sinclair is on the Hawkins' basketball team, and he's upgraded his hair game, sporting a high-top fade haircut. No question, this was a popular 1980s look. Kid, of hip-hop group Kid 'n Play, sported a famous one, although that was a few years after 1986, when season 4 is set.
Blue eye shadow
Cheerleader Chrissy loves the caked-on, baby-blue eye shadow, but don't judge. Many of us went bluer than blue in the 1980s.
'Never tell me the odds'
Right before an especially important D&D dice roll, Dustin announces, "Never tell me the odds." That's a direct quote from The Empire Strikes Back, from the scene where Han Solo informs C-3PO, Leia and crew to "never tell me the odds" as he's about to fly them into an asteroid field. Empire had been out for six years at that point, and Dustin probably had the whole film memorized.
Roller rinks were popular for many decades -- they're not just a 1980s thing. But in the 1970s, many of them turned into roller discos, with disco balls and hip tunes. Eleven, Mike and Will try to have a nice day at a California roller rink, but thanks to a snotty blonde named Angela, things go bad quickly. You'll hear the 1985 Baltimora hit song Tarzan Boy in the roller-rink scene. PS, it still rocks, Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh.
Don't blink or you might miss it: A Rubik's Cube shows up in front of Steve in a second-episode scene at the video store.
Nancy and Robin head to the public library to look up the Creel murders on microfilm. Yes, that's how we used to research things back in the day before newspapers put much of their archives online. If I had a dollar for every time I loaded the reel in upside-down, I could've probably bought a house at 1986 prices.
'Ponch and Jon out there'
In a scene where the Byers' house is being guarded by local cops, Jonathan sneeringly asks Mike and Will if they're worried about "Ponch and Jon out there." Ponch and Jon, of course, were the stars of CHiPs, the drama about two hunky members of the California Highway Patrol. It ended in 1983, but a Ponch and Jon reference in 1986 is still plenty cromulent.
'Pass the Dutchie'
Jonathan's new pal, Argyle, is a bit of a pothead. So it's only fitting that the 1982 Musical Youth hit Pass the Dutchie plays while he's driving his van in episode four. "Dutchie" apparently means "Dutch oven," or cooking pot, but everyone knew that the song originally was "pass the kouchie," meaning a pot pipe.
Robert Englund, who famously played Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street series of 1980s slasher movies, plays asylum patient Victor Creel this season. The '80s are his decade. There's even a "Freddy Krueger boiler room" joke in the show, though Englund isn't in that scene.
Remember the Christmas lights Joyce Byers used to talk to Will when he was in the Upside Down, back in season 1? A Lite-Brite plays the role in season 4, when it's used by Nancy and crew, trapped in the Upside Down, to talk to Dustin and his group. Every 1970s or '80s kid who saw this immediately started humming the jingle. "Lite-Brite, makin' things with liiiiiiiiiiight!"
At one point, the gang is driving around in a wood-paneled station wagon. Steve and Dustin, of course, are the duo who end up crammed in what we '70s and '80s kids called the "wayback," the cargo area behind the seats. Some station wagons had seats facing backwards. Were there seat belts in the wayback? Probably not.