Tales from the Loop (4 stars)

Tales from the Loop

The familiar meets the otherworldly in this groundbreaking new sci-fi series from Nathaniel Halpern

The digital paintings of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag provide an eerie inspiration for a quietly atmospheric, understated and meticulously drawn live-action sci-fi series. Created by Nathaniel Halpern (previously a writer for Noah Hawley's Legion), Tales from the Loop is breaking new ground as the first television show to be adapted from the medium of digital illustrations. This eight-parter is based on Stålenhag's Tales from the Loop art book which presented images of 1980s Swedish country life coalescing with future technology. Stålenhag's online art amassed a big cult following, his work recalling the imagery of science-fiction titans such as Ralph McQuarrie and Syd Mead, best known for Star Wars and Blade Runner respectively.

The stories have been relocated to North America, where an underground laboratory contains a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe. This machine has caused rifts in the space-time continuum and each of the episodes tells the story of a local resident whose life is altered, or mind opened by inexplicable phenomena. The show begins with a simple introduction, from the creator of 'The Loop', Russ (Jonathan Pryce), speaking directly to camera. From then on, the drama unfolds with little explanation but lots of intrigue.

Contained tales about love, loss, grief and loneliness are wonderfully acted by a diverse cast, with the script acknowledging those from all walks of life. Episode six tells a story about longing and betrayal from the perspective of a gay security guard, while the opener stars Rebecca Hall and places the spotlight on motherhood and career. Hall plays scientist, Loretta (daughter-in-law to Russ), and Paul Schneider appears as her husband George. As the creators and keepers of 'The Loop', the family play a central role in the series, with George and Loretta's son Cole (an impressive Duncan Joiner) making significant discoveries about life through the actions of his guardians.

The otherworldly yet familiar setting, where retro robots roam freely in woodland areas, and technology, fashion and furnishings from multiple eras merge, is complemented by a powerfully melancholic score by Philip Glass and Paul Leonard-Morgan. Its haunting refrain recalls Carter Burwell's magnificent composition for Todd Haynes' Carol, with the separate stories playing out to a similarly restrained tone. The characters are faced with moral conundrums and the whole gamut of the human experience, making for poignant viewing. Tapping into universal anxieties, this beautifully constructed series paints a timeless and compelling portrait of humanity.

Available to watch on Amazon Prime.

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