What have you been watching? Including Tales from the Loop

It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week

Previously on TMINE

Quarantine schedule continues at TMINE, but just like fresh fish in prison, we’re getting the hang of lockdown. That means I actually reviewed a new TV show this week: Broke (US: CBS).

Boxsets, movies et al still remain a tiny, dreamt of aspiration, and I suspect having a four-day Bank Holiday weekend to enjoy this week won’t change that, but to quote the great Ben Kingsley in the equally great Perpetual Grace LTD, “Get it. Get the rhythm, get the rhythm, there we go, there we f*cking go” – and it seems I’m getting it.

Next on TMINE

I’ve finished rewatching season one of Iron Fist, you’ll be relieved to hear (still great, particularly its juxtaposition of eastern philosophies with western plotting), which means I have actually started a few new shows, although I’m still no further with season 3 of Babylon Berlin.

After the jump, we can talk about the first episode of anthology show Tales From The Loop (Amazon). I also made a start on Home Before Dark (Apple TV+) this morning, so I might have something to say about it by next week.

We’ve some new and returning Australian shows coming up this week: season two of Bloom is due to hit Stan tomorrow, while I’ve just discovered The Secrets She Keeps (Australia: Ten; UK: BBC Four) is apparently already out, ahead of schedule – thanks, coronavirus! – so I’ll give them both a whirl, if I can.

Netflix is giving us Brews Brothers tomorrow, while Run (US: HBO; UK: Sky Comedy) is starting on Sunday. Monday will give us The Baker and the Beauty (US: ABC). Again, I’ll try to watch them, but it’s a Bank Holiday Monday, so let’s see how well I do on Tuesday work-wise before I promise anything.

Stateless

The regulars

It’s the usual regulars after the jump: Devs, For Life, Transplant, War of the Worlds and Westworld, as well as the season/series finale of Stateless. As per last week, I’ve not had time to watch last night’s episodes of Devs and Transplant. Catch you on the other side.

What TMINE watched this week

TMINE recommends has all the TV shows TMINE has ever recommended and TV Reviews A-Z lists every TV show ever reviewed in the past 15 years.

New shows

Tales from the Loop

In the UK: Available on Amazon

Inspired by the wondrous paintings of Simon Stålenhag, Tales from the Loop explores the mind-bending adventures of the people who live above the Loop, a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe – making things previously relegated to science fiction, possible.

Stars: Rebecca Hall, Tyler Barnhardt, Ato Essandoh, Jonathan Pryce and Jane Alexander

TMINE verdict

While there are plenty of TV shows based on films, books, other TV shows and comics, there are very few (not even The Night Gallery) that are based on paintings, which puts Tales from the Loop in somewhat rarified company. It’s in an even more select company of shows in being not so much sci-fi or fantasy, but something between fairy tales and art.

Essentially, it’s an extrapolation from individual Stålenhag paintings to create entire episodes that embody the same kind of worldview – with ‘the Loop’ being the MacGuffin that effectively makes the painter’s/writers’ dreams reality.

The first episode is set in different time zones and sees a young girl looking for her mother, who disappears after conducting an experiment. She searches in the woods, where she finds ‘wild’ robots, houses that are falling upwards and pieces of black rock that float. All while a Philip Glass soundtrack plays.

Being an anthology show, each episode is more or less self-contained, just linked by the Loop, and since I’ve only seen the first episode, I can merely conjecture that the other link is Jonathan Pryce – the Loop’s ostensible creator. Whether other stars, including the first episode’s lead (Rebecca Hall), will show up in more than one episode, I can’t say, but I’m not sure it matters if it does.

The first episode isn’t especially heavy on plot and the accomplished sci-fi fan will guess what’s going on fairly quickly. But as a show, Tales from the Loop is aiming more for poetry of images, sound and story, using its outlandish imagery to explore emotional situations rather than sci-fi concepts.

I was less wowed by what I saw of the first five minutes of episode two, which features some of the same characters as the first but not Hall, so it’s too soon to recommend it. But certainly there’s some fine qualities to it that make me want to watch more.

TMINE rating

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Shows I’m watching but not necessarily recommending

Devs (US: Hulu; UK: BBC Two)

1×6 – Episode 6

So, as with Ex Machina, we’ve reached the point where we have to ask ourselves: does Alex Garland really understand all the scientific questions he keeps raising or is he just using them as MacGuffins on which to base more pedestrian concerns and plots?

I discussed Garland’s apparent ignorance of chaos theory in my initial review, but now he appears to not understand something that’s more or less fundamental to the central concept of Devs: quantum mechanics. And not an abstruse part of quantum mechanics either – we’re talking the Schrödinger’s Cat part.

Here, Garland genuinely seems to think determinism – there is no such thing as a random event or something occurring without cause – is a real thing that he can talk about and raise concerns about, should quantum computing ever take off. But literally the entire point of quantum mechanics is that it’s a probabilistic theory – you only know if something is probably going to be somewhere and actions very much can take place without cause. Determinism is utterly incompatible with quantum mechanics – more so if you add in the chaos theory Garland has chosen to overlook/doesn’t know about.

All of which makes Devs bewildering to watch. Is Garland genuinely putting his concerns and all his cards on the table in Alison Pill’s speech this episode or is he merely playing through a dramatic concept and metaphor about the risk of tech-company power by using something that sounds plausible?

At the very least, I’m lost. I’m no longer sure what the point of Devs is. What is it about? Is it merely a pulpy thriller with a shiny gloss, in which people talk about complicated things that are real-world nonsense? Or does it have genuine aspirations to commentary and hard SF? If it’s the latter, it’s just failed really really badly; if it’s the former, it really shouldn’t have spent so much time talking about what should really have been left unexplored, for fear of people like me ripping it to shreds.

TMINE rating

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Initial TMINE review

Stateless (Australia: ABC; UK: Netflix)

1×6 – The Seventh Circle

So, surprisingly, some happy endings of sorts this episode, with various characters getting some kind of redemption or escape from their mental or physical confinement. Some of these are unexpected, some expected, while others get far worse outcomes.

All of which leaves the viewer moderately impressed but not stunned by any means by the show. It at least provides a certain degree of insight into the various components of the Australian refugee processing system as it was more than a decade ago, making the viewer for empathy for those working on the front line and those looking for refuge.

But seeing as the system largely got shipped off-shore a decade ago, it’s more applicable historically than currently. The fact it’s also got somewhat messed up with Yvonne Strahovski’s rape/dance cult horrors and discussions of schizophrenia and mental health has diluted the show’s message and plausibility.

Still, at least it’s proven that Jai Courtney’s can actually act when he’s not having to put on an American accent.

TMINE rating

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Initial TMINE review

War of the Worlds (France: Canal+; UK: Fox)

1×6 – Episode 6

Are we now entering the realm of psychic powers? I do hope not. Otherwise, more of the same, as the various survivors stumble around the apocalypse, still wondering why they’ve survived and still wondering what the aliens want. At least the answer seems to be moderately unpleasant.

TMINE rating

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Initial TMINE review

Recommended shows

For Life (US: ABC)

1×8 – Daylight

Quite a nifty piece of internecine plotting has played out over the past few episodes, with 50 Cent’s various machinations. It’s providing quite a fierce counterpoint to the show’s generally liberal message about treatment of prisoners – yes, there are some genuinely dangerous people out there who you can’t really mollycoddle.

That said, he’s a real mumbler that Fiddy, isn’t he?

Also good: Timothy Busfield getting something to do.

TMINE rating

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Initial TMINE review

Transplant (Canada: CTV)

1×6 – Trigger Warning

A reasonably good look at the effect of PTSD, but the show’s starting to look a lot more conventional now, as though it’s run out of things to say about different medical systems and different approaches to medicine, and now purely wants to talk about the Syrian war and refugees.

I’m willing to stick with it, since the episode’s coda hints at more interesting things to come, but I’m disappointed the show’s starting to veer towards the generic so quickly in its run.

TMINE rating

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Initial TMINE review

Westworld (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

3×4 – The Mother of Exiles

Erm, okay. Slowly becoming a show that seems to want to throw big ideas out at us because they surprise, rather than because they make a lot of sense. Why is Delores a better killbot than an actual killbot? Why are (spoiler alert) five exact copies of Delores so different and even Glaswegian? Why put an encryption key in your own blood? Wouldn’t you have to put it in your bone marrow? What rich person is going to put up with that?

Anyway, while the plot is slowly becoming utter nonsense without much by way of philosophical underpinnings, and it’s not exactly 100% clear what Vincent Cassel or anyone else actually wants now, it’s all passable fun that’s exciting to watch. Plus Paris got nuked.

TMINE rating

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Initial TMINE verdict

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