“Tales from the Loop” is no stranger to the weird. Giant bipedal robots roam the forests while ’80s cars drive past. Kids skip stones in a pond while giant, futuristic megastructures loom in the background. Based on the surrealist artwork of Simon Stålenhag, “Tales from the Loop” is an episodic series set in the rural town of Mercer, Ohio, which is also home to an underground laboratory for discovering secrets of the universe — what the locals refer to as “The Loop.” The show focuses on the many strange and fantastic mysteries that emanate from The Loop. If it sounds familiar, it’s because the series takes inspiration from some contemporary sci-fi shows, namely “Black Mirror” and “Stranger Things.” However, the show is able to stand surprisingly well on its own, providing a wholesome counterbalance to its contemporaries.
Like “Stranger Things,” the show is set in the ’80s, in small-town America. Both shows blend elements of mystery and science underneath the placid surface just dying to be explored. However, the success of “Tales” comes from its subtlety. Unlike “Stranger Things,” the show doesn’t bombard audiences with pop-culture references or nostalgia, settling instead for the understated: old Chevys and a color saturation that subconsciously evokes the’80s. The show manages to ride the same wave of nostalgia that propelled “Stranger Things” forward without being obnoxious.
Both “Black Mirror” and “Tales from the Loop” are anthologies, and each showcases the harmful consequences of humans and technology colliding. While in “Black Mirror” technology is the root of all evil, “Tales from the Loop” is much more subtle. For example, in Episode Two, a boy inadvertently causes the death of his best friend after the two discover a mysterious device that allows them to switch bodies. Technology was not the reason his friend died, rather, it was his desire to keep living his friend’s life that led to his death.
While it’s clear that “Tales from the Loop” takes cues from other popular contemporary sci-fi shows, it sets itself apart from these shows by dealing with small, intimate stories. “Stranger Things” is about world-ending monsters and alternate dimensions. “Black Mirror” constantly reminds us that we are heading towards oblivion. “Tales From the Loop” occupies a quieter, much more thoughtful position in the world of good sci-fi television. It’s fundamentally about human nature. One episode might follow a little girl as she searches for her mother. The next episode might return to a previously introduced character in a fight with his brother. Its characters come and go, but the mystery they leave behind is constantly added to the ambience of this strange, small town.
“Tales from the Loop” is exactly what good sci-fi should look like. Like “Stranger Things,” it constantly keeps the audiences wondering about the mysteries of this small town. Like “Black Mirror,” it shows that new, fantastic technology can cause human beings to make mistakes. But unlike both of these shows, “Tales from the Loop” focuses, not on technology or on mystery, but by creating well developed, thoroughly engaging characters and telling their story in a satisfying, thoughtful way. Through each episode, the show painstakingly creates a vivid world full of fantastic technology and engaging mystery. “Tales from the Loop” may not receive the recognition of “Black Mirror” or the fanfare of “Stranger Things,” but it still sets itself apart as examples of what superb sci-fi looks like.