Tales from the Loop

Possibly the most under-rated drama of the past few years, this is one of the most beautifully thoughtful series I’ve seen in a very long time; the kind of show that stays with you for a very long time after watching.

Set in the fictional town of Mercer, Ohio in the Midwest United States, the Loop is a facility at its very heart, like a town near a coal mine or a car manufacturer, everyone has some kind of relationship with it.  It’s never really clear what the Loop is but its work is connected to the large, rusting, metal monolithic objects of unknown origin that are scattered randomly around the town’s outskirts.  It may sound a bit ambiguous and there’s some suspension of disbelief required, as with most science fiction, but the objects are there to move the story forward rather than be the focus of it, as Hitchcockian McGuffins.

One of the joys with this series is the use of sci-fi to forward the story, sometimes you’re not entirely sure what’s going on and then the realisation slowly dawns as to what’s happening and what’s caused it.  It’s then that the humanity fleshes out the story and the consequences become real and relatable.  They use science fiction as a backdrop to some fundamentally human stories that question everything about who we are and how we deal with the world around us.

It can be too slow for some people, especially if you’re into fast-paced Marvel-type shows, which I am as well but I love the slow-burners too.  I fondly remember watching ‘Paris, Texas’ as a student and old documentaries like ‘Nanook of the North’ when I did my Film Studies degree (Loop isn’t quite THAT slow).   I fear that those people who did give this a try, gave up after the first episode.  You could be forgiven for thinking the episodes are entirely separate tales but there are connections that weave delicately through from the first, through each episode, to the very end.  It’s an almost magical first episode but taken as a standalone, I can see that people might not want to continue for possibly more of the same.

The casting is very carefully constructed to suit the themes and environment, with the skills of the actors creating a beautiful array of relatable characters.  Jonathan Pryce plays Russ, the founder of the Loop and so he is not only at the heart of the facility but the character from who all the other characters branch out from.  Jonathan is a wonderful actor who I always look forward to seeing (will be interesting to see him play Prince Philip in ‘The Crown’!).   Aside from him, I’d seen Jane Alexander in ‘The Good Wife’ and the brilliant ‘Modern Love’; Paul Schneider as Mark in ‘Parks & Rec’; Tyler Barnhardt as Charlie in ’13 Reasons Why’; Lauren Weedman as Doris in the incredibly good ‘Looking’.

As an ensemble, they work flawlessly, and the younger actors especially give exceptional performances and thrive at those times when the story rests solely upon their shoulders.  The main stand-out performance for me, was Ato Essandoh, as Gaddis.  Not wanting to reveal too much of the plot, but as with other characters we see short glimpses of him in episodes before getting to the one that centres on him.  I felt that as an actor, he had the most difficult of roles to portray in terms of its diversity and complexity.

The series is inspired by the work of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag https://www.simonstalenhag.se/ and the production team have done a magnificent job in bringing his art to life; looking at the art is like looking at stills from the series. Simon has produced two further works following from this ‘Things from the Flood’ and ‘The Electric State’; I sincerely hope that Amazon commission these two for further series.

A further element to this series is the beautiful score by Philip Glass and Paul Leonard-Morgan.  As is usual for Glass, this is wonderfully minimalistic and adds an almost meditative, somnambulistic, other-worldly feeling.  At times, it soars as if to reach into the very heart of you to heighten the emotion of the story, at others, it sits there, as it should, and holds our collective hand as we watch.

As an aside, if you’re working from home, for whatever reason, you can do worse than to put the soundtrack on in the background to help you concentrate.  I’ve found it an invaluable addition to my new working life:

If you take anything away from this is, give it a go! And if you gave it a go and fell at the first hurdle, give it another go!

NetworkAmazon Prime Video
CastDaniel Zolghadri, as Jakob
Rebecca Hall, as Loretta
Paul Schneider, as George
Ato Essandoh, as Gaddis
Duncan Joiner, as Cole
Jonathan Pryce, as Russ
SeasonS1 (2020): 8 episodes

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Welsh librarian, working in London and living in Brighton.

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