A Tribute to the Unsung Hero of 'Stranger Things'
Since the release of Netflix’s Stranger Things, there’s been a lot of Internet ink devoted to the singular awesomeness of Nancy’s ill-fated friend Barb.
This post is not about Barb, whose praises have most definitely been sung by an Internet full of grown-up nerds who can relate to the way Barb’s unassuming presence belies an ironclad determination to avoid going to parties.
Nor is this post about Winona Ryder’s character, because you know how we feel about all incarnations of Winona Ryder, and that is:
Similarly not a subject of this post is Steve Harrington, the show’s (reformed) douchebro James Spader-type, aka the character who didn’t take creepshots of Nancy. (I know you had some shit going on re: your brother, Jonathan, but seriously, get your shit together in season two. I don’t want to have to add you to the Nice Guys list.)
Let’s take a moment, if we could, to discuss Mr. Clarke, without whom Stranger Things would have ground to a halt after two episodes. Need a reminder? Mr. Clarke is this guy, the extremely helpful science teacher/AV Club coordinator at Hawkins Middle School.
This is a man who never keeps a curiosity door locked. “Hey, Mr. Clarke, how do I build a sensory deprivation tank?” “Well geez, I don’t know, it’s after school hou—THIS IS EXACTLY HOW MUCH SALT YOU NEED.” This was pre-Internet, folks. He was not Googling that shit on the sly. He just knew.
And remember that time one of his students “died,” and he tried to comfort the dead student’s friends at the funeral by talking about outlandish scientific theories (like one does) only to be shut down because the kids just want to know how to get to the Bizarro World?
“You guys have been thinking about Hugh Everett’s Many-Worlds Interpretation, haven’t you?” Duh, of course they have, they’re like twelve. Who even are you, Mr. Clarke?
A guy who impresses his hot date with his in-depth knowledge of the special effects in John Carpenter’s The Thing, that’s who.
You’re looking at Hawkins’ biggest stud machine. Look at that ‘stache. It was the ’80s. Women loved that shit. I’m like two seconds away from photoshopping Mr. Clarke’s head onto a picture of shirtless Tom Selleck.
And, OK, maybe Mr. Clarke being a deus ex science who can sit down and tell Mike, Dustin, and Lucas exactly what they need to know, science-wise, to keep the plot moving along is a little clunky, exposition-wise. And, in a less gentle time, would definitely result in all sorts of lawsuits. “Mr. Clarke, did you give your students detailed, illustrations on how to create a rocket-powered suit of armor? That they eventually used to accidentally blow up the school?” “Look, I don’t know what you’ve been told about me, but I make a point to never keep a curiosity door locked.”
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