Tales from the Loop is more than just Amazon’s Stranger Things

Ali Griffiths
Photo credit: Amazon Prime

From Digital Spy

Tales of the Loop spoilers? Not here, friend.

A distinctly retrofuturist vibe. A small American town with a dark secret. A hidden laboratory where unspeakable experiments are performed. If you think it sounds familiar, you’re certainly not alone. In fact you’d be forgiven for thinking that Tales from the Loop, the latest offering from Amazon Prime Video, was nothing more than a shrewd attempt to replicate the success of Stranger Things.

Scratch below the surface though and you’ll find a show remarkably different to Netflix’s smash hit. In contrast to Stranger Things' '80s action stylings, Tales from the Loop is a calm and quiet anthology series more interested in small moments than bombastic set pieces.

Based on Simon Stålenhag’s art book and tabletop role-playing game of the same name, the series is set in an alternate-history version of 1970s USA. Here, the gaudy neon pinks and blues of shows like Stranger Things are replaced with a distinctly mustard-coloured pallette and vinyl wood-effect paneling everywhere you look.

Aside from this, the world of Tales From The Loop is full of familiar science-fiction iconography, from rusting mechanical arms to giant glowing pylons. Where Tales' style differs from a lot of '80s-inspired fiction is how it places these weird and strange items in the middle of everyday life.

Photo credit: Jan Thijs - Amazon Prime

Characters in the show are not shocked to stumble on a robot in the woods, or snow falling upwards in a cabin. This blend of the extraordinary and the mundane is what made Stålenhag's original vision so compelling and it's great to see it translated so well to the screen.

A big part of what makes the show work is its anthology format. The series spends each of its eight episodes focused on different members of a small Ohio community who all live in the shadow of (or work for) an ominous experimental facility named The Loop.

This anthology setup means the show can jump around and introduce us to a host of characters, many of which recur in minor roles during episodes where they’re not centre stage.

Photo credit: Jan Thijs - Amazon Prime

Switching focus like this, and keeping familiar faces in the audience’s peripheral vision, turns Tales from the Loop from a procedural sci-fi show into something even more interesting. It becomes a multi-generational story with a town, and the ever present Loop, at its core.

The show’s first episode sets the tempo when its enigmatic narrator, played wonderfully by Jonathan Pryce, declares "everyone in town is connected to the loop in one way or another. You'll hear all their stories, in time".

Its focus is broader than a single story or character arc and is much more about how the presence of The Loop impacts different people from different walks of life.

For instance, episode six dives into the personal life of a queer security guard, glimpsed in earlier episodes, whose obsession and lust send him spiralling into a surreal situation involving infidelity and parallel universes.

Photo credit: Jan Thijs - Amazon Prime

This episode is a prime example of the show using its science-fiction setting to explore broader, more relatable themes. Here, Tales from the Loop tells a story that is sure to resonate with many LGBTQ+ people, one about desiring to escape a small town and finding domestic and romantic fulfilment.

Beyond its structure, Tales' quiet and thoughtful tone also separates it from other shows and films you might have watched. In '80s pop culture terms, if Stranger Things is ET and Gremlins, ie funny and low-stakes, Tales is Blade Runner – quiet and philosophical.

That also means, fundamentally, that the show is slow moving. Its cinematography, dialogue and episode pacing all take their time to get to the point. That might be too sluggish for some, but overall the effect is oddly peaceful.

Rather than over-explain concepts or lean on quippy comedy, Tales uses its musical and visual storytelling to do the heavy lifting – it’s interested in saying a lot with a little. Over the course of the series it wants to talk about what happens to a company town when work dries up, or when there is a major accident at a factory. It wants to talk about what being in a family means, and what it means to say goodbye to an elderly relative.

Photo credit: Jan Thijs

In its second episode, arguably the show’s least action-packed, Jonathan Pryce’s character is moved to the foreground and we explore his relationship with his grandson. A particularly poignant scene sees the pair shout into an strange echo chamber, where the duration of the echoes indicate how long you have left to live. This scene, and episode, are not plot-heavy but they are emotionally rich and indicative of the kind of show Tales from the Loop wants to be.

It asks you to sit and soak it in. Don’t look at your phone, don’t think about the outside world for a minute. Like working on a puzzle or staring at a painting, Tales from the Loop is a dense experience you can get lost in.

If you ask us, that’s what we all need right now.

Tales from the Loop is available to stream in its entirety on Amazon Prime

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