Based on the work of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag but transplanted to the American heartland, “Tales From the Loop” places in counterpoint the endless sweep of midwest prairie and the machinations of unimaginable technology. It’s a show that is fascinating to look at — with episodes directed by top-flight talent including Mark Romanek, Andrew Stanton, and Charlie McDowell — even if its narrative is more conceptually interesting than moment-to-moment engaging.
The series, an anthology, takes place in a small town that’s home to a mega-machine whose purpose remains unclear. (As in the less successful limited series “Devs,” as well as the current season of “Westworld,” the tech here appears to have a power of, or greater than, God.) We follow various citizens, including Abby Ryder Fortson as a young girl whose mother goes missing, Jonathan Pryce and Jane Alexander as a married couple, and Ato Essandoh as a bored and loveless functionary whose life suddenly takes a sharp turn into the surreal. These stories tend to have a strong central idea — Essandoh’s episode, featuring his meeting his doppelganger and beginning to question the decisions that made his own life apparently so much less fulfilled than that his alternate-universe self, is a good example.
But the episodes also tend to lack snap and charge; they are told with quite so much of a contemplative, even wistful air as to slip away from the viewer even as they’re happening. Rebecca Hall exists on the show’s margins but evidently the heart of the story as (of course) an enigmatic figure seemingly with her hands in everything. That we use her to get to other stories is fine, but the other stories tend to not have quite enough on the bone, relying on our own inherent sympathy for people in difficult situations to complete in our minds a story that’s half-told. One episode, for instance, closes with a montage that fairly lazily trades on the fact the audience’s understanding of mortality; yes, watching people grow old in montage is moving, but it feels more like kitsch than a statement about these characters and their world made with real purpose. In all, the Loop has a striking look, but its stories — at least over the course of the three episodes sent to critics — are a bit too laconically told to justify the sit.