Before she started working on TV shows like Sex educationKate Herron’s career has involved broadcasting in many offices. So when she got the chance to direct loki, a new Disney Plus series that follows a bureaucratic organization called the TVA that controls the time, she knew exactly what atmosphere she was going for. She describes the style as: crazy men meet brutalist architecture – with lots of sci-fi influences. And it was her previous career that helped inspire some of those aesthetics.
“I also gained a lot of experience from my own life as an office temp, I worked in many offices before I got my first film job,” she says. The edge. “It actually inspired the style of technology. I remember the computers I worked on were really archaic and very old. But I was working for these big institutions, and they said, ‘Well, we’re not going to update them because they’re not broken.’ I like the idea that this organization that controls time might not have the most futuristic technology. But it works, so why are they going to change it?”
Herron describes working on Loki as ‘a dream’, the kind of project she had long strived for. “I’ve always wanted to direct stories that are large-scale and fantastical worlds,” she explains. She also happens to be a huge Loki fan. “I just wanted to be part of the next chapter of this character and see what they were going to do with him. So I was pursuing Marvel really hard, I’d say, for this job. I was really excited,” Herron says.
Part of that involved creating a huge pitch document with all kinds of details: playlists, character ideas, and lots of visual references, such as photos of grim, brutalist buildings. There was a lot of of reference material. “It’s this big love letter to sci-fi,” she says of Loki. “But with the TVA specifically, you see Guide for hitchhikers, Metropolis, Brazil, Blade Runner. We came from many different places.”
One of the main goals, she says, was to make the TVA feel like a real organization. This is despite the fact that it is a group that exists outside of time and space and works for a trio of divine beings called the Time Keepers who control the flow of time. “We wanted the TVA to feel as grounded and real as possible, even though it obviously operates in a very fantastic space,” she says. The office has plain desks and a soulless cafeteria, and TVA agents use retrofuturistic computers that look like the long-lost ancestor of the iMac.
One of the most memorable gadgets is a tempad. It seems that everyone at the TVA carries with them the smartphone-like device, which looks a bit like a cross between a Famicom and an iPhone, with an interface reminiscent of classic metal gear spell. “I suppose it’s probably the closest thing our phones have to them,” Herron says. “It does everything for them. I’m a gamer and the interface is definitely inspired by SNES games and also the old Game Boy camera. I think it was fun to put these different ideas into this one piece of technology.”
All this production design gives: Loki a unique aesthetic, especially when compared to other stories in the MCU. But it was also important to give the show its sense of humor. Just like in movies like Men in black or show like the right place, there’s something inherently funny in the contrast of a strict, bureaucratic organization committed to something as bizarre as aliens or the afterlife. The same applies to Loki and the TVA.
“Good comedies always come from the truth,” explains Herron. “Guide for hitchhikers did that so well. We’re like fish in water with Arthur, but the behavior of the people – well, not the humans, the aliens – he encounters can feel like someone on Earth. I remember in Men in black, there is a coffee room, a tiny room where they have their coffee break. In the offices where I worked, yes, there were such rooms. I think that was really key for me with the TVA, giving their own sense of style, but at the same time for someone who’s been in that office culture, they’ll see things in the show and it’ll be familiar to them.”
Loki debuts this week on Disney Plus, and it’s the third Marvel show on the streaming service. Until now, each has had a very distinct atmosphere, from WandaVision‘s sitcom pastiche to the grittier Falcon and the winter soldier. For Herron, seeing viewers involved in these kinds of shows, especially the weirder aspects of WandaVision, has been encouraging.
“I was happy that the weird was embraced,” she says. “Because our show is pretty weird.”