I’ll be honest. I was not entirely familiar with Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag‘s work prior to viewing the trailer for the upcoming TALES FROM THE LOOP. However, after viewing the trailer and looking at the special posters that Stålenhag created for the series, I had to do a research dive and had my breath taken away. As I start putting aside my gold shiny coins to save up for the three books he’s created that accompany his artwork, I couldn’t help but wonder how executive producer Matt Reeves would bring Stålenhag’s material to life. At the time of review, we were given episodes 1, 4, and 5 to watch. This gave us a taste of what the series has to offer for prospective viewers while also keeping things under lock and key to prevent spoilers from really leaking through. Because we were provided with only a couple of episodes, I will do my best to critique. What helps is that they did provide the first episode, which provides a much-needed context in order to move forward with the rest of the episodes in the series. With that being said, I will turn to the synopsis to give you an idea of what the series is about.
From executive producer Matt Reeves and based on the acclaimed art of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, TALES FROM THE LOOP explores the town and people who live above “The Loop,” a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe – making things possible that were previously relegated only to science fiction. In this fantastical mysterious town, poignant human tales are told that bare universal emotional experiences, while drawing on the intrigue of genre storytelling. Where the series itself succeeds is the emphasis on the individual people within the realm of this world rather than focusing entirely on the genre-elements. Rather than spend too much time on world-building like other genre-related shows (Amazon’s fantasy series “Carnival Row” comes to mind), the series gives the bare-bones minimum we need to understand the setting and then moves onto what is really important in the series – the characters and their internal dilemmas.
A focus on exploring universal human issues is not enough to make the series stand apart from other genre fare, however. Because, in order for us to really start thinking about these issues, we need to care about the people onscreen who are dealing with them. TALES FROM THE LOOP succeeds in this in part due to its cast. With each episode structure only focusing on less than a handful of characters, it would make it easier for acting performances – both good and bad – to be noticed. However, I don’t think I could say there was a bad acting performance from anyone in the three episodes we were given. The child actors, in particular, were standouts for me. Abby Ryder Fortson and Duncan Joiner really made it easier to sink into the world that the creators had pulled together as they grappled with pretty heavy material for young children. Rebecca Hall, Jonathan Pryce, and Ato Essandoh were also standouts from the episodes we had been given. However, having been familiar with Hall’s and Pryce’s work, this is not the best they have done. In fact, I’d say it’s about middle ground in terms of their own performance capabilities.
With that all being said, I think TALES FROM THE LOOP will be a polarizing series for many. For fans of Stålenhag’s work, there’s not much exploration of the world he’s created inside his artwork. Instead, executive producer Matt Reeves has pushed to use elements as a background tableau while focusing on creating something else entirely. However, in focusing more on trying to create something original apart from its source material, the writing itself might have suffered. The “Loop” itself is pretty vague and difficult to understand as is. However, based on the three episodes we have had to parse through, there’s an overwhelming lack of explanation provided as to how the “Loop” makes the impossible possible, a phrase that will come up repeatedly in the context of Pryce’s character’s motivation in the series. Between time travel, parallel universes, and an echo chamber that lets you know how long you will live, there’s no rhyme or reason for how these things. We, the viewer, are just expected to go along with the ride. And, in a series that focuses so much on visuals over story, this will leave some viewers feeling alienated as they try to make sense of what is in front of them.
While we were only provided with three episodes, I think the mostly standalone nature of each episode helped facilitate enough interest in me wanting to continue on with the series moving forward. As per the title, each episode is, in fact, a tale. A tale that focuses on universal questions and issues that human beings experience. Given the timely nature of this introspective, philosophically thoughtful period in our lives, I think for many viewers TALES FROM THE LOOP will be a much-needed, lighter genre-related reprieve from the material out there now. With that being said, the series itself isn’t perfect. There’s a suspension of disbelief that is required of viewers as the more sci-fi specific elements are barely explained. For some viewers, this might be a major turnoff. That and, for fans of the original artwork from Stålenhag, you might be sorely disappointed as the series doesn’t quite dive into most of the plot elements that Stålenhag has already laid out in his own work. Instead, we get more of the visual connections to his work. However, the heart and soul of the series is in its emphasis on the exploration of universally human issues. While the writing itself could have been better, the visuals and the emphasis on universal human themes will have viewers staring for hours.
TALES FROM THE LOOP will premiere on Amazon Video for streaming on April 3, 2020.