The eerie, romantic attraction of Amazon’s “Tales from the Loop”

I’m stuck on a new TV series from Amazon Prime: “Tales from the Loop.”

This is science fiction in its purest form, removed from the explosions and laser battles that have predominated in film and video “sci-fi” for the last 40 years. Science fiction is, or ought to be, an exploration of how people and worlds would be different if something that is currently impossible became possible. Everything else is just special effects.

Tales from the Loop” appears to take place in rural Ohio in the 1980s. The characters live in a town that is mysteriously populated with impossible tech — a tractor that levitates, robots that can be slaved to a person’s movements — and at the center of it all, the loop, which is a strange sphere made of a substance with powers only hinted at.

None of this is explained, it just is — the characters interact with the technology as if it is just part of the environment, no different from an electrical substation or a piece of livestock. The technology itself becomes a character. It’s rusty and balky, filled with relays and solenoids and creaky mechanical joints that somehow completely transport you into the 80s world where everything takes place, a world filled with split-level houses, chalky green blackboards, people who smoke, and other rustic touches. If the series does not win an Emmy for production design, then its creators are being robbed.

Because the setting is so pervasive, it isn’t distracting. It just is. This leaves the characters to deal with eldritch events that are otherwise inexplicable. A girl loses her mother and is befriended by a woman who somehow knows all about her. A teenager stops time and has an endless romance. A lonely gay man finds the lover of his fantasy in another version of the world — along with a version of himself. I was completely swept up in how these people feel as they encounter these strange events. The people seem very real, unlike the cardboard cutouts and caricatures that populate most science fiction series.

There are no villains. There are no heroes. There are only people dealing with life.

The other thing so vastly different about this program is the pace. It is slow.

Things develop slowly. The plots are not stuffed chock full of events like most science fiction. The slow pace is well matched to the deep, quiet wells of emotion and the characters’ need to reflect on the odd world they live in. If all of television was like this, I’d get bored. But since all of television is so different from this — so frantic and melodramatic and urgent — “Tales from the Loop” is like a balm for the soul.

It feels completely original and enchanting.

I salute Matt Reeves, the show’s producer, who improbably based it on a book of paintings; the actors, who do an incredible job, and most of whom, except for Jonathan Pryce, I’d never seen before; the moody music by Philip Glass; and the directors, cinematographers, and production designers who created this enchanting vision.

Give it a try. And give it time. It’s only eight episodes, but I’d certainly like to see more.

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  1. I will take a peek at this. For a similar style of mood, if you have not seen it, I highly recommend the 2010 flick “Never Let Me Go,” based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel. No spaceships or aliens, and a very different take on the direction of humanity when cloning is perfected decades earlier from now. Existential questions abound.

  2. I just finished the series a week or so ago. It’s good, but I’d recommend watching it all at once or within a relatively short period of time as they do reference (and not overtly) previous characters/scenes and I found it a bit of challenge since I went almost 3 months between the first two episodes and the rest. But really good. Keeps you on your toes and you have to actually think about what’s going on.