Possibly the best successor to The Twilight Zone dropped its first season on Amazon Prime back in April. We’re finally getting around to reviewing that season. Taking its inspirations from paintings by Simon Stålenhag, the show gives us T-Zone plots with a modern sensibility, a recurring cast, and a world where one bizarre occurrence remains in continuity when the next one occurs.

It’s a brilliantly-made, thought-provoking depiction of an alternate reality where, one suspects, insurance premiums must be terrifically high.

Note: The show is, at least, an Adult-14 affair.

Title: Tales from the Loop: “Loop,” “Transpose,” “Statis,” “Echo Sphere,” “Control,” “Parallel,” “Enemies,” “Home”

Cast and Crew

Writer: Nathaniel Halpern. Inspired by the art of Simon Stålenhag.

Directors: Mark Romanek, So Yong Kim, Dearbhla Walsh, Andrew Stanton, Tim Mielants, Charlie McDowell, Ti West, Jodie Foster.

Rebecca Hall as Loretta
Abby Ryder Fortson as Young Loretta
Jonathan Pryce as Russ Willard
Daniel Zolghadri as Jakob
Duncan Joiner as Cole
Paul Schneider as George Willard
Emjay Anthony as teenage George
Jane Alexander as Klara
Tyler Barnhardt as Danny Jansson
Ato Essandoh as Gaddis
Christin Park as Stacey
Nicole Law as May
Leann Lei as Xiu
Dan Bakkedahl as Ed
Lauren Weedman as Kate
Alessandra de Sa Pereira as Beth
Danny Kang as Ethan
Dominic Rains as Lucas
Jon Kortajarena as Alex
Brian Maillard as Kent
Elektra Kilbey as Alma
Shane Carruth as middle-aged Cole
Jodi Lynn Thomas as twentysomething Klara
Stefanie Estes as Sarah the Teacher
Robert Nahum Allen as Logan the Bartender

Premise

Most of the time, we’re in an alternate 1980s, where the town of Mercer, Ohio hosts a facility known colloquially as “the Loop.” With access to an unexplained thingamabob of unknown origin, the operation, in the words of its founder, attempts to make “the impossible” happen.

Residents continually find themselves encountering the impossible and dealing with its consequences.

High Points

A dream-collection of directors bring Halpern and Stålenhag’s fever-dreams to life. Tales from the Loop is one of the best acted, best-directed, and best-looking SF series in television history. The first three episodes are among the best, even if the series will leave a few critical questions unanswered. I don’t want an explanation for the Loop itself, but it would have been nice to know what happened to Alma. If there’s a second season, they really should address the matter.

Of course, they don’t, strictly speaking. need a second season. The final episode, directed by Jodie Foster, is brilliant, heartbreaking, and one of the most bewildering hours in television history.1 I immediately knew I would have to rewatch it. It brings the series to some kind of conclusion.

Low Points

I accept the magical technology as the series premise, and remain unbothered by it, even in cases such as “Stasis,” where it raises practical questions about the relevant physics. Individually, the various devices function as both metaphor and instigators of interesting tales that explore humanity and society. Cumulatively, however, we’re left with questions about why, exactly, the Loop leaves so many derelict pieces of dangerous, reality-warping tech around where people can stumble over them and cause serious trouble. And would they not find a better solution to the problem posed in “Enemies”? How about a warning sign, if not an actual guard, on a certain stream? Impossible tech I can handle. Implausible human behavior, especially in a show that often explores human behavior so thoughtfully, presents a problem.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6 I consider the show’s take on its tropes to be original. Despite the obvious antecedents, Tales from the Loop feels different from what has gone before, and certainly unlike any other serialized TV show. That said, the episodes use a lot of familiar SF and literary elements. One makes beguiling use of a premise that has appeared, among other places, in an episode of the original Star Trek. “Transpose” does a freaky body swap; it’s far from the first story to go there. “Enemies””revisits Frankenstein but really, what SF series doesn’t? The final episode makes effective use of a ancient, mythic trope.

Effects: 6/6 Ignoring one rather odd, let us call it, reality warp (and what does such a thing look like, anyway?) the effects have been fully realized and integrated, so that you stop thinking about them and simply see them as a part of the story. As a bonus, someone obviously had fun assembling technological odds and ends into retrofuturistic devices.

Acting: 6/6 Yet another show proves that a TV show can have exceptional acting. The cast is note-perfect.

Bonus: “Parallel” depicts possibly the worst attempt at hitting on someone in recent memory. There have been kids at middle school dances who didn’t frazzle it up as badly as Kent manages.

Story: 5/6 The first and final few episodes are the strongest. The earliest ones have the advantage of standing alone, more-or-less. The final ones draw effectively on continuity. The middle episodes do not always feel complete, as is often the case in continuity-driven shows. They’re chapters, rather than complete stories.

Production: 6/6

Emotional Response: 5/6

Overall: 6/6

In total, Tales from the Loop, Season One, receives 38/42

Notes

1. Curiously, one of the other most notorious episodes of an SF series was also called Home.