Amazon’s new sci-fi series “Tales From the Loop” is a pretty difficult show to describe, even for its creator, Nathaniel Halpern, who also struggles with the idea of labeling it a sci-fi series at all.
“You’re making me flashback to when I had to pitch the show and it’s hard,” Halpern told TheWrap, when we made him try to compare his eight-episode Prime Video project, which launches Friday, to any other TV series that’s come before it. “Tonally, it’s rather unique and I don’t want to give the wrong impression, necessarily. It’s not a cynical or bleak show, so it’s certainly like the anti-‘Black Mirror.’ It’s not ‘Stranger Things,’ because it’s not trading on any kind of cultural nostalgia.”
“I would think ‘Twilight Zone’ is an interesting one because I often think about how there was a lot of humanity in Rod Serling’s stories,” he continued. “There were a lot of fantastical elements, but there was a real, humanist quality to ‘The Twilight Zone’ and a lot of empathy running through those stories. And I think, to a certain extent, you can compare it to that. I love ‘Twin Peaks,’ but it’s not as odd as ‘Twin Peaks,’ so I’m worried that might send the wrong signal to some people who are into that. So if we’re just talking the history of television, ‘Twilight Zone’ would probably be the most appropriate reference.”
OK, so ‘Twilight Zone” is the closest comparison Halpern can make here — but we are also going to let you make a premature one for yourselves by viewing TheWrap’s exclusive clip from “Tales From the Loop” here.
Now, if after watching that you’re still confused, Halpern is going to explain what “The Loop” at the center of the show is for you.
“The Loop is a facility beneath this small town that does experiments with fringe physics and the results of those experiments, the byproducts, if you will litter the landscape above ground and that’s where our characters encounter these odd phenomenon, which kind of kickstarts their story,” he told us. “So that’s essentially what The Loop is. It serves as the generator for story, essentially, through these physics experiments that we never quite witness, but encounter the results of.”
The characters we follow as they are affected by The Loop include Loretta, a gifted physicist played by Rebecca Hall; Russ (Jonathan Pryce), the founder of The Loop; George (Paul Schneider), Russ’ son; Jakob (Daniel Zolghardi), Loretta and George’s oldest son, an introverted teenager; Cole (Duncan Joiner), Jakob’s curious younger brother; Gaddis (Ato Essandoh), a lonely guard at The Loop; Alma (Elektra Kilbey) an obsessive physicist; and a teacher named Sarah (Stefanie Estes).
Halpern says that the show is really more about these characters’ experience with The Loop rather than The Loop itself.
“It’s a unique science fiction series in that it’s more of a dusting of science fiction and it’s primarily an emotional, character story,” he told us. “You see portraits of people where the science fiction is there to amplify and service what they’re going through versus the other way around, where often times in the genre the characters are there just to have the ideas of science fiction work. So all the efforts were really to get past, this isn’t mystery storytelling and it’s not overly cerebral. There’s wonderful science fiction ideas throughout, but I wanted to get past that and not get bogged down in characters talking about how this is happening and exploring that and just kind of having this exhibition dialogue. I wanted it to be elegant how the science fiction kickstarts a story that actually is a very simple, emotional story that hopefully people can relate to.”
Halpern didn’t come to the idea for “Tales From the Loop” all on his own, as the show is actually based on a narrative art book by Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag. And in case you were wondering, yes, adapting a narrative art book into a TV show isn’t a common occurrence.
“It hasn’t been done before, so that was a very exciting proposition,” Halpern said. “And I would say it was double-edged in that I think the hardest part of making something is finding a tone and an aesthetic for the world of a show that is a place you want to go visit and immerse yourself in, and here Simon’s work provided that. So that real heavy-lifting, in my mind, was already done to a certain extent because I got a feeling off these images and an aesthetic of this world, which is very hard to do.”
“And when I would talk with Simon, he was very supportive of what I wanted to do with his paintings, which was I used them as these visual concepts and looking at the painting and seeing what is the story or the feeling that comes to me,” he continued. “And more often than not, I just wanted to tell these intimate, emotional character stories. ‘Cause there is this poignancy to Simon’s work that I thought was quite effective and I wanted to be faithful to that emotional quality. So it was just using paintings as a visual prompt to be creative and think of a story of, ‘Who is that person in that painting? What is that scenario?’ And taking that and running with it.”
“Tales From the Loop” launches Friday on Amazon Prime Video.