Created by Nathaniel Halpern
Starring Rebecca Hall, Daniel Zolghadri, Duncan Joiner, Jonathan Pryce
Network: Amazon Prime
Anthology shows can be a tricky endeavour. Reliant on different writers and directors, and without a continuity of storytelling, each episode of a show can be very varied in quality. Prime’s latest offering at least has a shared world to act as its framing device to bind it together, as each story shows us more and more of the mysterious and strange town of Mercer.
Based on the art (and narrative) of Simon Stålenhag, Tales From the Loop is a dive into retro-futurism, and “fringe” science bordering on the supernatural. It focuses on the inhabitants of Mercer as they go through their day to day lives, effected by the weird science of the experimental lab that’s beneath it (the aforementioned Loop), and living amongst the detritus of a technological era that never was.
Tales From the Loop brings Stålenhag’s vision of cassette-futurism to vivid life, revelling in the production values. However, instead of garishly plunging into it, Tales From the Loop emphasises this design’s faded quality, lamenting that forgotten future past. This dovetails nicely with the bitter sweet tone of the show in general, and the theme of hope stolen from moments of sorrow that runs throughout the series.
As such it’s heavily reliant on atmosphere to convey that theme, rather than strong dramaturgy in the story. Tales From the Loop allows itself a languid pace, using Paul Leonard-Morgan’s (Dredd, Limitless) mournful score (heavily influenced by Phillip Glass’ work in the first episode) to set the tempo. Hence each episode requires patience from the viewer to engage in this slow burn character study set against the background of strange happenings, and depending on the episode, the rewards can be variable.
The format doesn’t always help in this regard. Although the show grows as we become more familiar with the other characters in the town, and see the knock on effect of their stories, the 50+ minute length can make a slight story idea feel drawn out and indulgent. It’s a balancing act, and some of the episodes manage it successfully, while others are damned by it. Furthermore, this might be down to the viewer themselves, as certain actors (such as Game of Thrones‘ Jonathan Pryce) and storylines are going to have more personal relevance than others.
Tales From the Loop may lack the shock of being an obvious sci-fi parable such as The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror, or the nostalgic adventure of the similarly cassette-futurist inspired Stranger Things. Yet it’s hard to deny the craft on display here, and the slow moving beauty of its graceful story telling. This is a highly ambitious attempt that doesn’t quite land for me, but some viewers will be swept up in its sad, poignant magic. However, at this stage of quarantine, we’d probably need an anime about meth dealing tigers competing for the throne of Westeros to even make a dent, so it might be a magic we go back to and rediscover in the distant future.