Loop – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Transpose – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Stasis – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Echo Sphere – | Review Score – 4/5
Control – | Review Score – 3/5
Parallel – | Review Score – 2.5/5
Enemies– | Review Score – 2.5/5
Home – | Review Score – 2/5
There’s something to be said about the tricky job critics have judging a full season based on a thin selection of screener episodes – especially for an anthology show like this. In that respect, Tales From The Loop is ultimately a series of two halves and one that’s tricky to capture without seeing the full season ahead of time. On the one hand, the opening slew of episodes are excellent, with some really good, thought provoking material and plenty of themes playing out in each individual story. We’re told numerous times that “thing’s won’t always make sense” and the ride itself is a fun enough journey to experience as we see the different characters overlap while playing out their individual tales.
Yet somehow, the halfway point of the show suddenly dramatically nosedives into mediocrity, throwing several inconsequential supporting players into their own tales that have seemingly no relevance or emotional resonance to the narrative as a whole. While this final point would be fine, especially given the way these stories act as parallel narratives to one another, the final episode attempts to clumsily tie everything together but does so in a way that undermines some of the work that’s been done earlier in the show.
On paper, Tales From The Loop has a lot of potential. Based on a series of paintings by Simon Stålenhag, this sci-fi anthology uses this sci-fi as a backdrop for more human-driven drama that runs through the different episodes, following a tight-knit community living above “The Loop” where the impossible becomes possible. The strange organisation simply known as The Underground is run by Russ Willard and serves as a looming, mysterious shadow we never really explore that much, and what follows from here are a series of stories that play out as modern day fables.
It’s actually a really smart idea and for the first half of the series at least, the show does a great job bringing this to the foreground and executing on this nicely. Unfortunately, the latter period of episodes struggle to reach the same quality the opening has, with a lot of plot inconsistencies and slow-paced episodes that fail to hit any sort of thematic relevance, moral or even emotional resonance.
The penultimate episode of the series is a particularly good example of this as we follow one character as a younger version of himself thrown into peril with a loose narrative that directly plays into the finale. We know he won’t die as we’ve seen this character as an adult and the central mystery is pretty much shown halfway through, spending far too much time building up to a climax that resolves itself within 5 minutes. It’s pretty messy storytelling at times and the crow-barred attempt at a meaningful finish misses the mark in a big way which is a real shame.
Aesthetically at least, Tales From The Loop looks fantastic. The backdrops are detailed, the effects are believable and there’s a gorgeous piano-driven score that runs under most of the drama, giving this a really powerful ebb and flow. There’s a few individual stories that use old narrative devices in a clever way and the production design across the board is outstanding. It’s just frustrating then that the show struggles to keep this quality going all the way through its 8 episodes.
Tales From The Loop is ultimately a show of two halves, running on two parallel trajectories. On the first, there’s a heartwarming, character-driven commentary at play with the sci-fi elements used perfectly as a backdrop. The second sees this lack of sci-fi pave way for the characters to shine but none are really developed enough to get emotionally invested in their journeys and this is a particular problem for some of the supporting cast who get little to no screen-time before their own stories are thrown at us.
With an ever-frequent glacial pacing, a lot of plot inconsistencies and messy endings late on, Tales From The Loop is a show that could have been one of the best shows of the year. I wanted to love this series and halfway through I was singing its praises (as you may have guessed if you read the episode recaps), but the nosedive in quality is a real disappointment that’s difficult to swallow. Like a painting that’s run its brush dry and made a hash of its shading, Tales From The Loop is a failed masterpiece and one that could so easily have been a showcase in a gallery, rather than a backroom what-if left to collect dust.