A show heavy on science fiction concepts and imagery, yet more concerned with the human aspects of its setting than the hardware and its whys and hows?
Sure, we had Star Trek and its various incarnations for that, the keyword being “had”.
But now we have Tales From The Loop, an emotion-packed, contemplative Zen garden of a show based on, of all things, a series of paintings (as opposed to a narrative in book or graphic novel form, as is the pattern).
Swedish artist Simon Stalenhag’s work is the inspiration for this eight-episode marvel (go ahead and Google him, most of us had to, for sure) – paintings that feature people in postcard-perfect landscapes dotted with SF hardware.
Somehow, these striking images have now coalesced into a TV series which involves, among others, filmmakers like Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn Of... and War For The Planet Of The Apes), Nathaniel Halpern (a writer on the far-out Marvel series Legion) and Jodie Foster (who directed the heartrending season finale).
In keeping with its inspiration, Loop is a gorgeously visualised show. Every scene is... well, postcard-perfect, complemented perfectly by Philip Glass and Paul Leonard-Morgan’s score which lies somewhere between wistfulness and whimsy.
Loop is something you can go in completely unprepared for, and just discover/savour each challenging story as it comes.
Its stories are largely unrelated, although some characters can be considered series “regulars”.
These would include The Loop’s founder, Russ (Jonathan Pryce), and his wife Klara (Jane Alexander); their son George (Paul Schneider) and his wife Loretta (Rebecca Hall), who both also work at The Loop; and George and Loretta’s sons Jakob (Daniel Zohlgadri) and Cole (Duncan Joiner).
And, although a few episodes are standalone stories, the overarching story of these more or less central characters does provide Loop with its biggest emotional gut-punches.
Just as Stalenhag’s works envisioned a kind of “alternate history” where familiar images of his native country were reimagined in a fantastical context, Loop is set in a sparsely populated Middle American town – Mercer, Ohio – which rests above a vast, secretive underground facility known as The Loop.
It looks like it’s set in the 1970s or 1980s, but an exact time period is quite irrelevant to the purposes of the series. After all, with all the incongruous tech lying around, what would it matter? And it isn’t until the final episode that we get an inkling of the show’s timeline (hint: pay attention to the library card).
All we gather about The Loop is that it was built to explore and unlock the mysteries of the universe.
The nature of those mysteries is explored on a very intimate and individual level.
As for the science behind The Loop, the mysterious floating black orb at its core (think of a benign-looking version of the drive core from Event Horizon), and the assorted robots, gadgets and gizmos found throughout the episodes – it’s all just there, not to be questioned but simply accepted.
The purpose of all this technology (sometimes, as Arthur C. Clarke would say, sufficiently advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic) is to simply propel the show’s characters off on their personal journeys.
Initially, Loop may seem like an overly placid show: so leisurely paced, its actors’ performances so measured and controlled, to the point that time seems to stand still (and it does, in one story).
When you pause to reflect on its characters’ experiences, however, there is a lot that echoes in our own: the search for acceptance, a longing for home, the envy felt for another’s life, a yearning to escape from social presumptions and confines, the frustration of being unable to protect our loved ones, the struggle to live with mistakes that cannot be undone.
It can get rather downbeat, but the sheer freaking unfairness of most things that happen here is not dwelt on to the point that you need to break out those old ABBA CDs to lift your mood after each episode.
Things just happen, like it or not, accept it or not.
Such open-ended, well-considered (and impactful) exploration of the human condition is rare in these days of shallow, fast-twitch storytelling, off-kilter perspectives and the hunger for closure.
To find it in a show that is as eclectic and occasionally eccentric as this, adds to the minor miracle that is Tales From The Loop.
It exists, in an environment where you can hardly picture it being conceived, let alone executed to such fine and pleasing detail.
Perhaps that too is reflective of humankind itself, and certainly a mystery of the sort The Loop was built to ponder.
All eight episodes of Tales From The Loop are available on Amazon Prime Video.
A picture-perfect puzzle