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The new sci-fi TV series Tales From the Loop lands on the mystery spectrum somewhere between The Twilight Zone and Lost. While two of the first season’s eight episodes could stand alone, the setting and characters unite all the tales. Luxurious cinematography and stylish storytelling set the show apart from many other viewing options but occasionally sap some of that good, old-fashioned spookiness. (Spare the Rod Serling, spoil the brainchild?)
Time-wise, the 55-minute episodes’ deliberate pacing probably won’t trouble viewers with Stay home! schedules. Troubling, though, are nudity and sexual content in those two standalone episodes (Nos. 3 and 6) as well as intermittent explicit language. Too bad, for in spite of fantastical situations, the stories do nail some keen insights into human fallenness.
The Loop is the nickname of the Mercer (Ohio) Center for Experimental Physics, a circular underground facility designed, according to its director (Jonathan Pryce), to “unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe.” (It's reminiscent of the subterranean Dharma Initiative laboratories in Lost.) Everyone in the area is connected to the Loop—working there or related to someone who is. Various clues suggest it’s the early 1980s, such as a nearly endless parade of early model Volvo 240s. The use of these vehicles is almost certainly a nod to Swedish author/illustrator Simon Stålenhag, whose 2014 eponymous narrative artbook inspired the show.
In “Transpose,” the second episode, two teen boys switch bodies. What begins as a seemingly harmless chance to experience another person’s life leads to worsening complications that persist throughout subsequent episodes. In the third episode, a teen girl and boy make time stand still for everyone else so they can prolong the thrill of new love. But what happens when they get to know each other? In the sixth episode, a man enters a parallel reality where he competes with his alter ego for a gay lover’s affections. Although they sanction unbiblical relationships, these episodes perceptively critique popularly idealized notions of romance—straight and gay: Selfishness pervades every heart.
Themes of childhood grief and parental regret permeate the stories, too. The show also drops in puzzling props, such as tall, scrap-heap-looking robots with unexplained roles. And the third episode has what’s either an anachronistic blunder or a detail to test viewers’ attentiveness: A live band plays a slowed-down version of “40 Shades of Blue,” a song released in 1993. It didn’t get past this Black 47 fan.
Am I a fan of the show, too? Cautiously, yes. But if I were in the loop, I’d tell the show’s creative team that their clever tales can do without the explicit content.