“Tales From The Loop” (Amazon Prime series); Cast: Rebecca Hall, Jonathan Pryce, Paul Schneider, Duncan Joiner; Created by: Nathaniel Halpern.
By Vinayak Chakravorty
“Tales From The Loop” draws inspiration from the creativity of Swedish artist Simon Stalenhag to set up a portrait of heartland America. Packaged as sci-fi drama, the eight-episode series comprises eight standalone stories set against a common backdrop where the extraordinary is a way of life.
The backdrop is a fictional Ohio locality and the extraordinary factor is the titular Loop, above which the locals live. The series explores the lives of these people, and how the Loop — a machine that can realise the impossible — affects their existence.
Stalenhag’s artwork is trademarked by seemingly out-of-place sci-fi motifs that find a harmonious coexistence in canvases of gorgeous landscapes. The series tries capturing that impact in its motion picture frames, as everyday human life of the townsfolk finds a surreal balance with the Loop.
In a sense, given that premise, the series would seem like an attempt to understand contemporary humanity itself — which learns to put up a semblance of normalcy even if it were to coexist with the gravest of uncertainties.
The huge Loop, we are told, can unravel the “mysteries of the universe”, and though the locals have learnt to accept a lifestyle that accommodates the outlandish device for the many technological advantages it gives them, there is a pervading sense of awe and fear surrounding it.
Given the fact that plot points of many of the stories overlap and several characters return through the show, the eight short stories would seem like a cohesive whole. It makes for a fascinating concept, as series writer-creator Nathaniel Halpern gets going with the individual stories. The element of the bizarre weaves seamlessly with the human psyche as the stories train focus on everyday emotions and urges that could acquire an eerie edge when pushed. At a very basic level, these would seem like tales about human curiosity for the unknown, or the instinct to hold onto a special moment, or the obsession to bring back the past. Yet, if these improbabilities really became possible with a quirk of science, would life indeed be happier?
The series allots more focus on human drama using that idea, than letting the sci-fi quotient fully take centrestage. The outcome is a slowburn watch that would draw you gradually into the series if you are willing to invest patience.
For me, the exquisitely shot show worked for its overall element of intrigue, and the fact that it is well acted out (Rebecca Hall, Jonathan Pryce and Paul Schneider are, not surprisingly, exceptional). The episodes directed by Mark Romanek, Andrew Stanton and Jody Foster would seem a cut above in a series that is by and large credibly crafted. A stronger sense of urgency would have worked wonders though, and some cutting-edge pace.