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Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Tales From The Loop: Well Done, Amazon! You've Crafted A Winner!

Based upon the iconic artwork of Simon Stålenhag, Amazon Prime Video's Tales From The Loop both lived up to my expectations and subverted them.

Set in an "'80s that never was", complete with clunky robots and weird science, it blends the idealised bucolic nature of small town life with the bizarre to create a genteel series of mysteries, a cocktail of old school Twilight Zone stories and more modern Black Mirror themes with the community spirit of Eerie, Indiana, and, yes, a modicum of Stranger Things.

People die and disappear, there's time and dimensional travel, but there is no real overarching plot, no monsters to slay, 
no Big Bad to thwart.

The show is more concerned with exploring the lives of people who live and work around The Loop, a subterranean research centre that is unlocking the secrets of the universe, making "the impossible, possible".

Rather than following a single - branching - plotline, this first season is more akin to ripples spreading out from an incident that occurs in the second episode ... and has an unexpected, heartbreaking, pay-off in the season finale.

While largely concerned with the family of Loretta (Rebecca Hall) and George (Paul Schneider), Tales From The Loop is eight, hour-long, stories where incidental, background, characters in one story often become the protagonist in another.

Although each story is largely self-contained, they are not standalone and certainly unfold in a set order, fitting together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Don't expect dramatic, pulpy action, instead this is thoughtful, methodical, and measured storytelling that demands your focus and concentration, and can grab you in the feels when you're least expecting it, thanks to its slowly blossoming narrative and the existential questions it poses.

Those familiar with the Tales From The Loop roleplaying game - from Free League - might come to this expecting a stronger Stranger Things vibe, with plucky youngsters solving cases under the noses of dismissive adults, but that's not the case here.

For instance, while Loretta and George's son Cole (Duncan Joiner) has an instrumental role in many of the stories, the balance of adult leads to child leads is about even.

Tales From The Loop stays away from many of the tropes associated with the 'kids of bikes' genre and Stranger Things (not that I'm bashing that show - I've never tried to hide my love for it - I just want to stress how different the two are, even though, at first glance, you might think they would be covering similar ground).

The cinematography and mise-en-scene of Tales From The Loop is simply phenomenal, possibly the best I've seen in this kind of television series, with many shots looking like they were photocopied straight from the pages of a 
Simon Stålenhag artbook.

Complementing this is the ethereal score by Philip Glass and Paul Leonard-Morgan, that accentuates the dreamlike quality of the stories, where not everything is explained, yet you accept it anyway because the characters do.

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