Creating a TV show from an artwork is no easy task. With Tales From The Loop, the result is an 8-part series that follows the strange goings-on in a town set atop an experimental physics research facility. It is visually stunning, though at times it leaves you wanting more. The series is available on Amazon Prime Video from 3 April.
The show is inspired by a collection of paintings of the same name by Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag. The original artworks feature primarily rural scenes with a sci-fi twist, such as children playing in a field with a large robot in the background.
As series creator Nathaniel Halpern told New Scientist, the producers presented him with Stålenhag’s art as a suggested jumping-off point for the series. “It was obviously a unique situation in that I hadn’t really heard of anyone adapting paintings before… It was that somewhat unique process of just looking at his images and thinking ‘what is this world, what are the stories that pop out of those images to me’, and then I wrote them.”
Each installment of the series stands alone, but they also weave into the larger story of a town and its residents. In the first episode, we meet a girl and her mother, who works as a research scientist at The Loop, the local nickname for the town’s research facility.
Lingering shots of snowy landscapes are set to a backdrop of beautiful music by Philip Glass and Paul Leonard-Morgan. The pace is slow, so you can drink in the calm scenery and ponder the mysteries below the surface.
When the scientist and her home later goes missing, her daughter is helped by another child in the town, whose mother Loretta also works at The Loop. We are presented with an intriguing mystery: did they simply disappear? If so, how? And could this have something to do with black holes?
Unfortunately, this is where the show stars to wane. A twist diffuses the suspense built up so far, which leaves an unsatisfying series of questions as to what actually happened that don’t really get answered.
The second episode continues on this theme. It follows Loretta’s father-in-law, who runs The Loop, as he confronts a life-threatening illness. He takes his grandson to see a curious and hollow metal structure, which can somehow predict how long your life will be. Here, they discuss life and death and… not a lot else happens.
The difficulties of adapting an art collection for the small screen are evident in Tales from the Loop. We are confronted with interesting artefacts and objects in the town’s landscape, such as huge retro-looking robots, that are either half-explained or just ignored. This works well for a painting, as you aren’t awaiting the full story, instead expecting to ponder it on your own time. Yet with a TV series, it feels like something is missing.
This is a show I really wanted to enjoy: the set-up was intriguing and the visuals are wonderful. Halpern’s quest to create a sci-fi programme rooted in the ideas of The Twilight Zone and what he calls “empathy for the human condition” is a noble one. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite achieved.
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