'Solar Opposites': TV Review

Courtesy of Hulu
Starts off only fitfully fun, but closes strong.
5/8/2020

Justin Roiland and Mike McMahan's Hulu animated comedy has a distinctly adult sensibility and enough loopy sci-fi elements to appeal to 'Rick and Morty' fans.

I don't want to exclusively compare Hulu's new animated comedy Solar Opposites to Adult Swim's Rick and Morty.

Sure, Solar Opposites hails from Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland and veteran Rick and Morty writer and producer Mike McMahan. Sure, it's a comparably cosmic series with comparably big science-fiction swings interspersed with comparably low-brow hijinks, featuring Roiland as the voice of one of the main characters. Sure, the characters all have asterisks (or rectums, depending on your level of coarseness) for pupils, a familiar Rick and Morty ocular flourish.

The simple reality is that fans of Rick and Morty are very likely to enjoy Solar Opposites, even as they're just as likely to criticize the first few episodes as not quite as good — a generally unfair comparison given that the first handful of Rick and Morty episodes also weren't as confident in Roiland and Dan Harmon's brand of lunacy as later episodes became.

But what about the show itself? What about audiences who have never seen, or dislike, Rick and Morty? Let's try to service them.

Solar Opposites is the story of a quartet of aliens from far-off Shlorp, forced to leave their planet ahead of an apocalyptic event. They crash-land into a suburban cul de sac, where at least to some degree they're accepted as a part of the local tapestry. The series takes place a year after their arrival.

Korvo (Roiland), scientifically minded and generally disgusted by humanity, and Terry (Thomas Middleditch), much less intellectually assured and much more enamored with Earth culture, spend most of their time tinkering with technology damaged in their crash and attempting to mind the Pupa, an adorably mobile yellow (when healthy) triangle with the potential to destroy the planet. Kids — but not necessarily Korvo and Terry's kids — Yumyulack (Sean Giambrone) and Jesse (Mary Mack) are attending high school and trying to fit in, a process that would go more smoothly if Yumyulack weren't constantly shrinking classmates and other grown-ups and storing them in a vast terrarium.

There's something pleasant about how premise-vague Solar Opposites is. They're aliens. They live on Earth. Occasionally they make a mess of things. The first handful of episodes are mostly stand-alone goofs playing off of how aliens might interpret and respond to various Earth oddities, including local elections, college life and a popular alien television creature named Funbucket Tadstockings. Sometimes these mini-adventures are very funny and other times they don't quite lock onto the satirical topic with enough edge.

Along the way, though, fans of TV animation will probably get a kick out of how hardcore Roiland and McMahan are going, especially for a premise that was originally developed at Fox. This definitely isn't for kids, starting with the liberal peppering of adult language and carrying through to violence that's cartoonish and gory enough to leave Rick and Morty, already a show with a reasonable amount of depicted viscera, in the rear-view. Heck, there's even some sex, all done within the bright, colorful goofiness of Roiland's style. Think adult anime content with a Fox Animation Domination aesthetic.

Adding energy throughout is a top-tier vocal cast. The core quartet, all very good, are augmented by a veritable who's-who of live-action comedy favorites like Ken Marino, Tiffany Haddish, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Natalie Morales, Jason Mantzoukas and Andy Daly, plus oddball dramatic co-stars like Christina Hendricks and Alfred Molina, plus the usual animation stalwarts like Maurice Lamarche and Phil Lamarr. And, for all that, the series' breakout character will probably be the generally silent Pupa, who has a Baby Yoda-like blend of cute and mysterious.

There's a shift or evolution that takes place in the second half of the initial eight-episode Solar Opposites run — a second season has already been ordered — that brings the show from fitfully promising to intriguing and ambitious in its own right. The early episodes have certain limited windows of continuity or running gags, things like Terry's jokey t-shirts or Korvo's rants about human stupidity at the end of the credit sequence, but the show becomes increasingly serialized; things that seem like they might be throw-away become unexpectedly important.

The sixth episode is particularly provocative, delving into the gender roles in the series. Are Terry and Korvo a same-sex couple or does Shlorp not have an Earth-like understanding of gender? And if Terry and Korvo aren't necessarily locked into binary genders, why does Yumyulack present with typically masculine traits and Jesse as typically feminine? The episode, featuring a robot sitcom wife, is smart and, as Jesse enthusiastically puts it, proves that "Gender politics is fun!"

Somehow the seventh episode is even better and the eighth episode, probably the most Rick and Morty-esque of the group, is an amusing and trippy way to wrap the season and suggest an optimistic direction forward.

There's stuff to like even in those early episodes, whether it's the glee of the untethered swearing and violence or an eclectic list of references that go as broad as the frequent chiding of Hulu and as weirdly specific as nods to Green Room or eXistenZ. It's the second half that points to Solar Opposites becoming a show I want to watch completely on its own merits and not just as a parallel attraction to Rick and Morty.

Voice cast: Justin Roiland, Thomas Middleditch, Sean Giambrone, Mary Mack
Creators: Justin Roiland, Mike McMahan
Premieres: Friday (Hulu)