“Tales from the Loop” is an eight part science fiction drama developed by Nathaniel Halpern; the series is based on an art book of the same name by Swedish artist Simon Stalenhag. The series aired in its entirety on Amazon Prime Video on April 3rd 2020, so the wider availability of this show across other networks I am uncertain about.
The stories in this show all take place in the ficticional town of Mercer. In this town there exists an underground scientific research facility called the Loop. This facility was set up and founded by local resident professor Russ Willard – played by Jonathan Pryce, purely as a centre for experimental physics trying to unlock the secrets of the universe. The driving force in the facility revolves around the existence and study of a curious spherical device called the Eclipse which is housed in a secured chamber. The Eclipse is made up from hundreds of interconnecting parts – all black in colour, which, one would imagine, could be made into any geometric shape, but we get to see it when it is in spherical form. The origins of this device are never made known and are bathed in a wash of total mystery, but it has strange qualities which in effect, can make the impossible, possible. This is the basic premise and backdrop of the show.
The stories evolve around recurring characters that live in the town, and as the series unravels it becomes clear that everything is intertwined with each other because of the influence of the Eclipse making the unbelievable or unlikely happen. Another aspect in the town is the question of a definite time period. It is difficult to pin down exactly what decade the town is currently in. The first clue we get is from TV sets which all have a retro look to them and appear to come from a time such as the late 60’s or early 70’s – there is no wide screen set in sight. The cars can look modern while at other times; can look rather old and classic. The furniture, too, has a peculiar retro feel and never really looks like they belong in our modern designer times. There are no mobile phones to see – only land-lines, but there are computers. When you consider all the conflicting sights that there are to see, you begin to wonder if the town has been warped through various time zones as a consequence of the Eclipse and retained items from various visited time periods? The jury is out on that one because no explanation will be forth coming any time soon, and just like an onion, there are many layers to peel away before you get close to the core and lay bare the mystery of Mercer.
Within this ambiguous time period there are buildings and structures that are unmistakably futuristic in appearance and are in stark contrast to the retro appearance of everything else around them. Tall towers whose purpose is never touched upon, strange devices in the sea – just off the shore line, and again, their purpose is not clear to us. There are robots aplenty walking round doing things, and some of them dwell in the forest for no apparent reason? The robots also have a retro feel to their appearance. We also see strange flying objects around the Loop and these machines are as much bathed in mystery as everything else is. We also discover that there are derelict devices – usually spherical in form scattered about here and there and some of them are still functional; a fact that two of the characters realise to their detriment after stumbling across such a device in one of the episodes. And then there’s all the electronic devices, in this show they all look like the old style valve driven radio sets of the 40’s, but are capable of doing unbelievable things once activated. All of the above mentioned things enhance the curiosity of the viewer as this world of art driven fantasy slowly comes to life.
The special effects, although excellent, are understated and never take pride of place but sit within the story as if they naturally exist in the world of Mercer. It is quite refreshing to see a show that is in no rush to race through the stories of its inhabitants, but content to allow the wave to roll up gently as it splashes you in the face in revelation. This show is full of surprises, some of them unexpected and some of them make you go “aha!” when you learn a truth later on down the line.
I have seen countless episodic programs over the years, and it is fair to say that some elements in this show seem vaguely familiar – I’m thinking of “Lost” as a good example, but where this show differs is in the very human drama that is played out across all episodes. Some of it is sad, melancholic, and tragic, but all is touched by the hand of love and is gentle, sensitive, and emotionally driven. And to think that this show was inspired by someone’s artwork which had no running, explanatory dialogue, so the imagination to fill in the empty spaces and bring this world to life had to be expansive and very creative indeed. . .and by Jove the makers succeed in doing just that!
“Tales from the Loop” is a glorious showcase of curiosity and the human condition, and while it may not be for everyone, there is an underlying truth, a continuous thread running through all eight episodes that remind us that we all struggle at times to get through life, and sometimes we don’t make the right choices and our chosen actions can be tinged with regret over an opportunity squandered, and if we were able to go back and choose again our choices would turn out to be very different. Hindsight is a wonderful thing especially in a world where anything you can imagine becomes possible, even though the ensuing result may turn out to be something totally unexpected. . .but that’s life! That’s not to say that this show is just about time displacement – there are several aspects of our current understanding of modern physics that are explored rather than explained – so get ya brain working, ok?
The theme music and soundtracks are composed by Philip Glass and Paul Leonard-Morgan, and are as sensitive, thoughtful, and gentle as the program itself.
I highly recommend watching this program if you can, it’s beautifully made with outstanding acting performances.
NOTE: If you do a search for Simon Stalenhag – Tales From the Loop – you can admire his artwork which inspired this series.