A small-town mystery starring a group of kids uncovering a conspiracy involving MKUltra, the CIA, and the Soviets. Stranger Things, or Granite Flats?
Few Stranger Things fans have even heard of Granite Flats, but this earlier series was also available on Netflix for some time and shares a surprising amount in common with the more recent hit. Debuting in 2016, Stranger Things soon became a word-of-mouth success story for its creators, Hidden helmers the Duffer Brothers. The series was an instant hit with audiences and critics alike and has only grown in popularity in the years since the show began.
It is not hard to see why Stranger Things became such a smash, with the show boasting an impressive multi-generational cast, an intriguing sci-fi mystery, and more ‘80s nostalgia than viewers could shake a Rubik’s Cube at. Stranger Things may have a fake death problem and a handful of other issues, but it remains extremely popular despite its flaws. As the series nears its fourth season, reviews have remained positive and the fanbase continues to expand.
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However, not every series centering on the same themes as Stranger Things has been as lucky as the hit. Similar series were even available on Netflix around the same time, but couldn’t capture the attention of mainstream audiences in the same way. Take, for example, the BYUTV production Granite Flats, which lasted for three seasons between 2013 to 2015. The first scripted series from Brigham Young University TV – an institution sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – Granite Falls was a small-town mystery that had a lot in common with the later, more famous Netflix hit. Stranger Things frequently references Jurassic Park, Stephen King, and all manner of ‘80s pop culture as its biggest influences, but a lot of its creative DNA can also be found in this earlier series.
Granite Flats Explained
Premiering in 2013, Granite Flats was a small-town mystery that followed a group of kids unearthing a twisted mystery beneath the surface of their seemingly idyllic hometown. The kids soon discovered that everyone from the CIA to Russian Communists was involved and, as the scope of the mystery grew, so too did the scope of the show, incorporating stories involving the kid’s parents, other townspeople, and their families. With a period setting and subplots focusing on older cast members, the show may not have featured a Hawkins Lab of its own, but the similarities with Stranger Things are nonetheless obvious.
The Similarities Between Granite Flats and Stranger Things
Both shows make use of small-town settings and instantly recognizable periods (the ‘60s in the former and ‘80s in the latter), but the similarities run deeper than that. In both series, the setting is home to a secret government conspiracy and Soviet communists are later revealed to be lurking in the shadows trying to access secrets found by the US government’s clandestine experiments. Most notably, the CIA’s real-life MKUltra campaign is used as the basis for a fictional sci-fi mystery in both shows, with the infamous real-life events given an additional layer of fictional sci-fi sheen by both programs. The test subjects of Stranger Things still haven’t been fully explained, but Granite Falls depicted them as sleeper agents in the vein of The Manchurian Candidate, hypnotized and brainwashed unbeknownst to themselves and ready to be activated by trigger words in classic paranoid sci-fi fashion.
Stranger Things Borrowed Granite Flats’ Approach To Casting
As a low-budget series, Granite Flats didn’t boast many big names in its season 1 cast unlike Stranger Things, which featured Winona Ryder and Full Metal Jacket star Matthew Modine. However, as the show gained popularity and a bigger budget, later seasons included a plum part for ’80s genre stalwart Christopher Lloyd. The Back to the Future hero played an aging English teacher with a penchant for Shakespeare, and his character acted as a kindly mentor to the show’s ragtag bunch of kid heroes in the same way science teacher Scott Clarke functions on Stranger Things.
Similarly, Stranger Things soon found roles for Aliens’ Paul Reiser or horror icon Robert Englund as the series grew in popularity and budget. Both series used these character actors to add a sense of nostalgia too. However, credit where it’s due, Stranger Things subverted Reiser’s slimy screen persona by making his character unexpected decent, whereas Granite Flats relied on Lloyd’s warm charm to give the actor a familiar (but still welcome) role.
Stranger Things Borrowed Some of Granite Flats’ Cast Members
The Princess Bride’s Cary Elwes cropped up in season 3 of Granite Flats as a shady CIA agent who the show’s creators described as “sleazy and smarmy”. The actor, who often played heroes in the ‘80s before rebranding in the ‘90s and ‘00s as a more morally ambiguous figure, also appeared in Stranger Things years after his Granite Flats role. Elwes played a supporting part in Stranger Things season 3 as… a sleazy mayor, who turns out to be in league with some dicey extra-governmental organizations. The similarity between the two is striking, although the Mormon ethos behind the production of Granite Flats does mean that Elwes’ mayor indulges in more extramarital affairs, profanity, and drug abuse than his earlier character did.
Where Granite Flats and Stranger Things Differ
Being a BYU production, Granite Falls is a family-friendly affair that steers clear of explicit sex, violence, or adult content. Stranger Things is not all that different from the earlier series in this respect, with the later show featuring scant sexual content thanks to its young cast and fanbase. However, with less of a concentrated focus on sci-fi and more horror, Stranger Things is undeniably a scarier, more violent affair, particularly with the show’s turn toward body horror in season 3. Stranger Things also features more explicitly supernatural content where much of Granite Flats’ mysteries were based on sci-fi tropes, meaning the two series diverge in important details. Not only is the Netflix hit a darker, morally murky series, Stranger Things is also more indebted to Stephen King and Dean Koontz’s scary ‘80s horrors, where the BYUTV series offers a more light-hearted and optimistic take on tropes influenced by the works of Ray Bradbury or Steven Spielberg.
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