Solar Opposites Is an Earthbound Rick and Morty
We spoke to Rick and Morty writer Mike McMahan about his new animated Hulu series with Justin Roiland, Solar Opposites.
On a Friday night in 2015, Justin Roiland, Rick and Morty co-creator and voice of both Rick and Morty, suddenly began tweeting out concept art of a new animated sci-fi comedy series he was working on called Solar Opposites, much to the chagrin of its co-creator, fellow Rick and Morty writer Mike McMahan. Entirely because of my tireless journalistic dedication, I was at home and on Twitter that night, which meant Den of Geek was the first media outlet to report on the new series.
Five years later, the premiere season of Solar Opposites is landing on Hulu. McMahan was kind enough to answer my questions about it, so I started out by apologizing for my involvement in spreading the leaked concept art across the web.
“It was so funny though, dude. It’s fine,” he says, adding, “Listen, you weren’t the one screengrabbing my texts and posting them on Twitter.” (Yes, Justin also did that.)
In Solar Opposites, a family of aliens—Terry (Thomas Middleditch), Korvo (Justin Roiland), Yumyulack (Sean Giambrone), and Jesse (Mary Mack)—crash lands their spaceship into the roof of a house in middle America and decides to take up residence there. The aliens are so clueless about life on earth they have trouble recognizing the difference between reality and fiction, which results in them accidentally causing a lot of death and destruction.
“You write what you know,” says McMahan, “and I’m a real stupid person and I love writing stupid characters.”
A violent animated sci-fi comedy starring and co-created by Justin Roiland is unavoidably going to be compared to Rick and Morty, but McMahan stresses that the similarities are only surface-level.
“The only thing I think it would share is that it’s really, really funny, but it’s a totally different tone,” he says. “The tone of Solar Opposites is much more terrestrial, two aliens trying to make it on earth. They don’t go to other dimensions. They don’t even go to space. It’s all about the effects these aliens are causing on earth.”
The characterization, McMahan explains, is a huge difference as well.
“Rick is this iconically brilliant character on Rick and Morty, but on Solar, it’s the blind leading the blind and the dumb leading the dumb. I love Rick and Morty because every episode is something you’d never expect and it takes you to a place you could never imagine. I think Solar Opposites does the same, but in a simpler, more childlike, naïve, goofball-y way. We really got to lean into our goofy sides while writing it, like our sillier, funnier, kind of more basic stuff.”
Solar Opposites’ overall comedic approach is inspired by simpler, classic sitcoms. McMahan says that if Rick and Morty is like a modern, single-camera show (a la Arrested Development, 30 Rock,or Community), Solar Opposites is cut from the cloth of multicamera, “filmed before a live studio audience” sitcoms.
“Justin and I grew up with TV. We love sitcoms. The DNA of the show is definitely like Home Improvement, Friends, Frasier, classics like The Honeymooners, classic sitcom vibes but then undercut with alien stuff.”
However, what is decidedly modern about Solar Opposites, and what also separates it from Rick and Morty, is that all episodes of the season will be released on Hulu at once, something which allowed the writers to incorporate more serialization into their storytelling.
“We do something serialized I’ll tease,” teases Mike. “It becomes such a surprise I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it before. There’s a sort of a throwaway joke in the pilot that ends up becoming the entire show. It’s a really fun thing to get to watch grow, but I don’t want to say more than that.”
Of course, another major thing that separates this show from Rick and Morty is that sitcom savant, Dan Harmon, is not involved with it.
“Dan’s voice is so strong in Rick and Morty,” says Mike, “and it’s something we didn’t try to emulate at all.”
Anyone familiar with Justin Roiland’s pre-Rick and Morty work knows it’s a lot more unhinged. Without Harmon keeping him in check, is Solar Opposites going to deliver pure, uncut Roiland insanity?
“I don’t know if I would say that,” McMahan says. “It’s really different than Rick and Morty. Solar is kind of like every episode starts and for a minute feels like it could be a standard family Fox sitcom. But then shit starts to get really weird because the aliens are just so different from human beings. Rick and Morty are humans and have a human baseline. Our aliens don’t know any of that shit so they might look like a family but they’re just weirder in their DNA. If they even have DNA.”
The show actually was originally pitched to Fox, but they passed, and Hulu’s eventual pickup of Solar Opposites allowed it to get even stranger.
“On Fox, you have to appeal to this broad audience. So, when we did another pass on the pilot, we kind of upped all the crazy shit and let some of the safer stuff fall to the wayside. Hulu is like, ‘just make whatever makes you happy.’”
However, to ensure their storytelling would remain strong, the Solar Opposites team did hold onto Dan Harmon’s story circle, a template he created based off of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey that has provided the structure and brilliant plotting of every episode of Rick and Morty (and Community before it).
“I use that on everything,” says Mike. “That story circle saved my ass so many times. I would hate him to see how I use it because I kind of bastardize the third quadrant of it. I use it for a different purpose. But, yeah, I use it on every episode.”
Also carried over from Rick and Morty is the main characters killing Nazis. Mike confirms “you will see some Nazis die in Solar Opposites.”
Finally, seeing as Disney owns Hulu, I wanted to know, does that make Solar Opposites a Disney production?
“Oh, a hundred percent,” says Mike. “We hang out with Goofy, we hang out with Mickey Mouse, it’s pretty cool. I’m gonna lobby for the Solar Opposites Experience at Disneyland.
“One of our characters, Jesse, is kind of our Lisa Simpson. She’s a little bit of the heart and the morality of the family, but I think she could rock a princess dress. I think she could go on an adventure of self-exploration and personal growth, sing a song, kill some Nazis. You know, it’s like Disney princesses, but they kill Nazis.”
“I’m hoping we have a lot of eyes on this show. Because it’s really good and really funny. We didn’t try to be Rick and Morty. We love Rick and Morty but we’re telling different types of jokes and we have different types of characters. I’m hoping that people would check it out, watch the first episode. They’re like, ‘okay, that’s not Rick and Morty. I’m going to give it another episode or two or more.’ Then they’re going to see this thing that we’re growing. And if they give it that chance, I think they’re going to really love it.”
The first season of Solar Opposites will be available to stream on Hulu on May 8th.