- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
There’s no limit to the suffering some people will take on — or foist on others — for a chance at even marginally greater happiness. That’s the central insight of AMC’s Soulmates, a new sci-fi anthology drama set in a near future in which a biotech company promises to pair users with the one person that can maximize their romantic satisfaction.
Creators William Bridges and Brett Goldstein never bother to explain how “The Test,” as the matchmaking service is colloquially called, works. Nor does a single character evince any skepticism that The Test is 100% accurate. That’s because Soulmates is much more interested in how different individuals react to the lure — or potential tragedies — of lifestyle optimization.
AIR DATE Oct 05, 2020
Largely pessimistic and domestic-minded, the series has been unable to escape comparisons to Black Mirror. With one exception, Soulmates seldom recalls the creative bankruptcy of the Netflix show’s later seasons, but it never remotely reaches the visionary brilliance of its earlier years, either. Soulmates is further hampered by its squandering of the anthology drama’s freedoms in the first half of its six-episode season, which takes place in too-similar bougie, married, mostly hetero milieus. A better name for the show might be Blah Mirror.
The best episode of the debut season is the series premiere, in which Succession’s Sarah Snook plays a long-married mother of two young children who can’t stop wondering what she’s missing out on. Snook’s Nikki lives behind a white picket fence with her college sweetheart Franklin (Kingsley Ben-Adir) — a sweet, handsome and successful man whose only “flaw” might be that he likes to talk about his boring job (not even with her, but with strangers at parties) a little too much.
The radical life changes that two people close to Nikki undergo soon after taking The Test make her question whether she, too, might be happier if she profoundly disrupted her marriage and family by learning the identity of her actual soul mate. The episode doesn’t end particularly satisfyingly — even with Snook’s committed performance, there’s a little too much O. Henry neatness to the plot twists for the story to feel organic and lived-in — but Nikki’s mostly self-inflicted torment feels deeply relatable. Who hasn’t let comparison steal their joy, even while hating themselves for allowing the theft to happen? And who hasn’t been led by the itch of tech-assisted FOMO to scratch surfaces we know should never be touched?
The wonderful character actor David Costabile can’t salvage the abysmal second episode, which at least acknowledges the reality that people get married for reasons — and advantages — other than romantic love. But it’s not until the Mexico-set fourth episode, which plays out like a twisted gay rom-com, that Soulmates starts making full use of its anthology format. Episode 5 goes even further afield (in a good way), with two lovelorn strangers (Malin Akerman and Stranger Things’ Charlie Heaton) — whose perfect partners died before they could meet them — left to flirt with despair and open to exploitation.
Disappointingly, hardly anyone on Soulmates is matched with someone they find unattractive, problematic or even deeply flawed (though one character is coupled, to their surprise, with a person of the same gender). Such idealized matches — along with the sterile handsomeness of the production and the Anytown, USA, where most of the episodes seem to be set — add to the sense that precious little of the proceedings take place in a recognizable world, with recognizable people, no matter how many scenes are shot by an ostensibly intimate hand-held camera.
That Soulmates is more thought experiment than involving storytelling is further underscored by the season’s final installment, in which Breaking Bad alum Betsy Brandt’s meek Caitlin re-enters the dating world with a history of abusive relationships weighing on her, only to discover that her soulmate might be yet another violent misogynist. It’s the only chapter with an ending that surprised me, but only because it featured the one plotline that seemed to remember that romantic fulfillment doesn’t have to be the be-all, end-all of everyone’s life. With a second season already greenlit, let’s hope that the show keeps taking risks — and finds a way to finally feel ensouled.
Creators: William Bridges, Brett Goldstein
Premieres Monday, Oct. 4, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day