The competitions between various streaming services have inspired a race for new content so vast that they have spawned many strange shows and movies, each more bizarre than the last. Nevertheless, I have never seen anything quite so unusual as Amazon’s new series Tales From the Loop, a new sci-fi epic inspired exclusively by paintings. The whole saga began in 2013 when Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag began publishing his series of surreal sci-fi paintings online. He quickly gained a devoted following, both due to his artistic talent and his eerie choice of subject matter.
Since his rise to internet stardom, Stålenhag has published three books of paintings, titled Tales From the Loop, Things from the Flood, and The Electric State. His books were, in part, supported by his loyal fanbase of devoted internet enthusiasts, and Amazon has a documented habit of buying things that have such fans and making shows out of them. For example, last year they invested in a new season of The Expanse after fans of the book series flew a plane over their headquarters, and this year they have devoted significant resources from Amazon Studios to making a new show inspired by Stålenhag’s art.
As far as I can tell from this trailer, the plot of Tales From the Loop is noticeably nonexistent. Amazon gives the synopsis: “Townspeople live above ‘The Loop,’ a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe.” Unfortunately, this does not explain much. The trailer shows off a lot of uncanny shots of strange things happening with ominous narration, and it certainly appears as though the most important part of this show is its visuals. This seems to be appropriate for a show based entirely on paintings. Despite its inscrutability, Tales From the Loop looks as compelling as the paintings that inspired it.
In my opinion, some of the best sci-fi in recent years has relied on the disturbing imagery of broken technology. There is something fascinating about the sense of empires fallen, landscapes dotted with vast iron idols that are incomprehensible even in a world full of mobile phones and self-driving cars. Even now we are all hiding from COVID-19, a disease which has been blamed on human interference in the environment. Perhaps the most interesting part of stories like this is not that technology has failed, but that it coexists with nature. To see machines, even terrifying ones, that are broken down, overgrown, and covered in ivy conveys some sense of awe that is far from the force fields and polished starships of Star Wars, but no less stunning.
The first season of Tales From the Loop will be launched on Amazon Prime Video tomorrow.