This Solar Opposites review contains no spoilers.
A quick glance at Solar Opposites might make you think “more Rick and Morty” and that’s fair enough. It is, after all, a hyperviolent sci-fi cartoon in what is unmistakably Justin Roiland’s art style, scribbly pupils and all. Indeed, the two series are enough alike they could comfortably exist in each other’s multiverses. However, unlike Seth MacFarlane, who made three shows that looked exactly the same—and then as it turned out, they were—co-creators Mike McMahan and Justin Roiland have taken what they learned on Rick and Morty to craft something that, despite sharing some hefty chunks of DNA (if DNA can be chunked) with that show, stands apart as its own silly, smart, well-crafted work. There’s more review after this sentence, but the short version is: Solar Opposites is super good and you should watch all of it.
Let’s get this out of the way: there’s no need to leave a comment that American Dad! is the good, different MacFarlane show; I’ve watched enough of them and you’re not going to fool me again. My problem with MacFarlane shows is they feel tonally the same. I don’t care if it has a talking baby or a talking fish, the same dismissive, aggressive humor is the defining feature. Solar Opposites actually feels quite different from Rick and Morty. One of the reasons for this is what’s absent: Rick.
Rick is a genius. Justin Roiland’s character on Solar Opposites, Korvo, believes he’s a genius, but the thing is, he’s not; he’s a moron. Like Rick and Morty, Korvo and Terry (Thomas Middleditch) have access to all manner of technology that allows them to do anything and everything, but, crucially, they’re idiots, who use their technology idiotically.
The existential dread that comes as part of the package deal with someone like Rick is largely missing. There’s no God-like character struggling to justify his increasingly meaningless existence on earth. Terry and Korvo are basic fools on earth who manufacture their own conflicts by constantly finding something new to obsess over. In one episode they want to meet a character from a TV show they like so they put all their efforts and sci-fi tech toward that. In another, they can’t let it go that their neighbors don’t like them, so they go way too far to rectify that. In our interview with Mike McMahan, he said if Rick and Morty is like a newer, single-camera sitcom (a la Arrested Development, Community, or 30 Rock), Solar Opposites is an old-school, multicamera show (Cheers, Home Improvement, Frasier) and the comparison is apt. This series is mostly about watching a family of alien dumbasses screw things up for stupid reasons.
Solar Opposites functions well as a show in the classic sitcom format because every member of the family is strongly characterized, we spend an evenly divided amount of time with all of them, and they’re all lovable. In addition to Korvo and Terry, there’s the replicants (the kids, effectively), Jesse (Mary Mack) and Yumyulack (Sean Giambrone). There’s also the Pupa, who doesn’t really talk, but gets its own charming, Maggie Simpson-esque plotlines, too. So far, the character pairings stay pretty consistent: Korvo and Terry have one conflict while Jesse and Yumyulack deal with something else (usually to do with school), but each character is so fun on their own, I’m confident they can swap them around to shake up their adventures in future seasons.
I can’t stress enough how great the voice cast is. The principal cast is all highly expressive actors with hilarious, cartoonish voices. Sean Giambrone and Mary Mack seem especially well-suited to playing these goofy-looking aliens. Mack’s Jesse is so adorable and hilarious, it’s a treat just to listen to her every time she’s onscreen. There are other wonderful performances outside of the main cast, too. Some notable mentions are voice acting royalty Tom Kenny and Kari Wahlgren, as well as Andy Daly and Alfred Molina.
The show deviates from its sitcom roots in its use of serialization. Solar Opposites brings plot elements and side characters from earlier episodes into later ones, but doesn’t get bogged down with a big overarching storyline, staying mostly concerned with silly, self-contained conflicts. The serialization is still used to surprising dramatic effect in a unique, inspired way, however, but I’ve said too much already.
Happily, the two key features of Rick and Morty also present in Solar Opposites are a decent budget and complex writing. It’s a good thing Hulu doesn’t skimp on their shows just because they’re online as this series is stuffed with great-looking, madcap, violent action set pieces. The show wouldn’t be out of place alongside other adult TV animation (that is, if it weren’t for the gleeful, constant, unbleeped profanity).
The writing in an episode of Solar Opposites perhaps doesn’t go through quite as many insane plot machinations as your average Rick and Morty episode (something that’s both that show’s strength and curse), but the sci-fi premises are still followed to unpredictable, batshit extremes. But the real complexity here is in just how loaded with gags this series is. The characters talk at breakneck speed, constantly tossing out banter, obscure pop culture references, and bad words. The dialogue comes so quickly I often had to skip backwards to catch jokes I’d missed. I’m not sure I’ve seen a series so bursting at the seams with gags since Xavier: Renegade Angel, which I consider a high-water mark for modern comedy.
The Rick and Morty comparisons were always going to be unavoidable, so it seemed best to get them all out of the way in this review. If you love that show, you’ll likely love Solar Opposites too, but I must stress that it’s its own thing. Justin Roiland and Mike McMahan have brought over what they learned from their other series while shedding some of the baggage of its later seasons, and, together with the amazing cast, have created something super entertaining that’s much sillier but still smartly, confidently written.
I’m giving this first season a perfect score because, looking back over it, sure, there was the occasional weak moment, but there simply wasn’t a single bad episode.
All eight episodes of the first season of Solar Opposites will premiere on Hulu on May 8th.