(++ WARNING: The following review does contain spoilers for episode one of Tales from the Loop ++)
Tales for the Loop is a new original science fiction anthology series launched last Friday 3rd April on Amazon Prime and based on the stunningly hypnotic digital paintings of Simon Stålenhag. And, like these somewhat haunting pictures, the show adamantly and correctly sticks with the same aesthetics from the ground up. Not just in the visuals but also in the pace and the music, which is composed by Oscar-winner Philip Glass in collaboration with composer Paul Leonard-Morgan . A score that is sparsely used, but when it does encroach on this opener helps bud both tension and the sense of something mystical too, which the intervening winds we heard in certain scenes also helps to evoke.
The whole first episode has a slow pace about it that will deftly tease you in without even realising it, as we follow a young girl, Loretta, who find that her mother suddenly goes missing. What’s more, when she heads to her place of work – the loop of the title and a place where almost everyone in this small fictitious Ohio town works – no-one has ever even heard of her. Although, it does attract the attention of the security guard who make an important phone-call that sets the ball rolling for the big reveal at the end of the episode. More on that in a bit.
A secret underground lab situated deep in the heart of rural America, Ohio in fact, where the secrets of the universe are explored and unlocked, as our narrator, and Loretta’s grandfather, Russ (played by Johnathan Pryce) explains at the top of the debut episode, and set in the last (or seemingly so from the design elements that inform this world) all sounds rather familiar doesn’t it? But, to simply compare this show to Stranger Things would be lazy and incorrect. Even though I have already seen many reviews doing just that.
No, this programme – with its very Scandinavian 70s design and washed out colors, along with the propensity for snow – feels more like a not-too-distant cousin of Germany’s own Dark series, that I described at the time as lo-fi sci-fi. And, I think that phrase is apt to sum up this series too. I’d go even further and suggest that we are witness the birth of an exciting new, gloomy, slower paced sub-genre, the Scandi-sci-fi. The pacing wonderfully allows the viewer to better take it all in.
The robots behemoths of Stålenhag’s paintings don’t really get much of a look in in this first episode, but there are just enough decaying, rusty robots around to tie it to his paintings. But, like I said, it’s the whole feeling you got from looking at these rural landscapes that are brilliantly brought to bare on the whole show. This may be set in America, but there’s nothing except for the accents that would make you think this. The architecture, the snowy, grey landscapes, even the propensity for olly jumpers from another era all lean towards Stålenhag’s own childhood upbringing in Sweden. It has more in common with European televise and cinema than it does with anything America has ever produced. Well, maybe the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, but not much else.
It’s a world that offers up a simpler life, where the retro-futuristic technology serves the community rather than hinders upon it and subsumes it through automation, as it is undoubtably doing in corners of our own contemporary society. It’s a lived-in universe where robotic technology seems to have been around a good deal of time now and cats as background dressing, for now at least. It would seem from the title and this first episode, it’s the mysteries of the loop that is the real driving force of at lest this episode, as well as the sad story of Loretta. a story that’s ending is openly hinted at, if you can hear the dialogue that is.
At times, it seems mumbled, or drowned out with Glass’s score, but I don’t think that is unintentional. The young girl, Loretta (played by Abby Ryder Fortson), meets a boy in the forest, and soon she is brought home to his house where his mother, Loretta, awaits. And, yes, you did read that correctly. Two characters called Loretta in such a small town? So, when it is revealed – and remember, we did warn you there would be spoilers in this review – that the older Loretta (played very beautifully low key by Rebecca Hall) is indeed a grown up version of the girl she now find in her home, it’s easy not to have spotted the audible clue earlier in the show Hall’s character is introduced.
WIth Hall’s older Loretta comforting her younger self and showing her the inside of the loop, and what lies within, the show seems to end rather unresolved. You will be left feeling that this is far from over and so I imagine later episodes, will focussing on other characters and other stores in this small town, may very well dig deeper into this mystery as well as other mysteries.
Tales from the Loop, series 1 is available now on Amazon Prime.