Among Stranger Things’ many fine qualities is its sweet, nostalgia-tinged reverence for best friendships. Mike, Lucas, and Dustin are bonded in a dark, Goonies-style brotherhood; Eleven has Eggos and Mike; Sheriff Hopper gets by with his loyal companions booze and strange. But sexually active good girl Nancy has the greatest best friend of all: Barbara “Barb” Holland (Shannon Purser).
Barb’s time on the Netflix series is brief, but from the moment she strides through the doors of P.S. Small Town Indiana, it’s clear that she’s not only the best friend in history, but also the best character on the show. Here’s why.
Barb’s Name Is Barb
It’s such a wonderful name, Barb. Fun to say — like a sublimation of the urge you (I?) sometimes get to “yarrr” like a pirate. Her name is invoked often over the series: “Barb,” they say appreciatively. “Barb,” they say in reverence. “Barb,” they say in mourning. “Barb,” they whisper, like a song on the breeze. The name is succinct, curt, matter of fact — like Barb herself.
Barb’s Got Style
Let’s talk about the hair first — it’s like she marched into the mall Great Clips one day and demanded the Mia Farrow from Rosemary’s Baby. (The hairdresser, in this scenario, had definitely not seen Rosemary’s Baby.) But it works with Barb’s big glasses, her high-waisted pants — made from various unforgiving fabrics (light denim, khaki) — and her beloved high-necked blouses and sweaters. She’s a trendsetter: People now spend too much time at Beacon’s Closet trying to get that Barb swag.
Barb’s Better at Chemistry Than You
While Nancy was studying the inside of Steve Harrington’s mouth, Barb was actually studying. You can tell from the way she quizzes Nance on the elements — Barb has this proton count on lock.
Barb’s too tall for high school, and she’s too damn good for this world.
Barb Is a Selfless Wingwoman
Barb demoted herself to DUFF status so Nancy could go to Steve’s unchaperoned pool party. Barb spent hours helping Nancy pick out a new top, and then just sat there as Steve’s dumb friends ignored her or taunted her. Barb was so selfless she ended up as alien bait while waiting for Nance to finish getting laid upstairs. That is devotion.
Barb Can’t Shotgun a Beer
Every teen in every party scene in every movie has a preternatural understanding of how to shotgun a beer. Not Barb. Barb can’t even get out of the starting gate without slicing her hand because only you, me, and Barb know the truth: Shotgunning a beer is hard, and nobody ever looks cool doing it.
Barb’s Future Was So Bright
If Barb had made it through high school, she would have been accepted to Stanford, but would’ve have chosen Oberlin to “explore herself.” She’d have taken an older lover, possibly a professor who’d inspire her to explore her creative side. She’d eventually abandon him and her unpublished volume of poems to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering; Barb’s high-profile work would have earned her a job with the CIA. She wouldn’t be able to talk about what she does. She’d never marry. But she’d travel a lot, and keep an apartment and men in several foreign countries. Nance would called her once or twice, but Barb wouldn’t have time to call back.
But Stranger Things reminds us that high school is terrible, that if you’re not the one who sleeps with Steve Harrington at the parent-free, school-night pool party, you’re the one sitting alone outside by the pool, waiting to get sucked into an alien vortex. (It breaks my heart, but them’s the rules.) So we’d like to pour this poorly shotgunned beer out for Barb, queen of sidekicks, champion of best friends, patron saint of high school nerds. Your spirit shines as bright as the weird lights that fucked up Winona Ryder’s phone. We’ll miss you.