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Solar Opposites [Season One]

Anytime an artist becomes well known for their association with a particularly successful creation, it's a challenge for them to establish a name for themselves outside of it. So when an animation creator makes a splash with a major hit, there is a lot of pressure on their follow up series or film. And so it is with Solar Opposites, the first show co-created by Justin Roiland after his breakout with Rick and Morty.  This time though his co-conspirator is not Dan Harmon but Mike McMahan, staff writer/producer on Rick and Morty and creator and showrunner of Star Trek Lower Decks.

Solar Opposites started life as a project for Fox but was later dropped and subsequently picked up by Hulu. The first season debuted on Hulu in the US on May 8, 2020, and on February 23 2021 episodes began streaming weekly on Star on Disney Plus in the UK and elsewhere outside the US.  The series was produced by 20th Television (formerly Fox) and Justin Roiland's Solo Vanity Card Productions.

Solar Opposites follows a family of aliens who came to Earth after fleeing their homeworld Shlorp before an asteroid hit. They consist of team-leader Korvo and his brother-in-law Terry and kids Yumyulack,  Jesse and Pupa (who is destined to one day evolve into its final form and terraform the Earth. With their ship damaged they're stuck on the Earth and in the meantime they have to learn to deal with living among the humans until they can fix it and leave or the Pupa transforms- whichever comes first.

Comparisons with Rick and Morty are inevitable. Partly this is because it shares a visual style with the earlier show- right up to the squiggly pupils-  although it looks a bit slicker possibly due to a higher budget. Korvo also shares similarities with the character of Rick- he's a scientist with a superiority complex and general disdain for humanity- that go beyond the fact that they are both voiced by Justin Roiland. Korvo is much more uptight and straightlaced than Rick ever was, but they both aren't quite the kind of person (or alien) they appear to be on the surface.

Korvo's personality and attitude is completely different from Terry, a permanently upbeat, enthusiastic soul with a fascination with everything human who has gone 'full native'. One trait he does share with Morty is that neither have been particularly blessed in the intelligence department. Korvo and Terry's dynamic makes them a classic odd couple type.

It's tempting to assume that in their partnership on Rick and Morty it is Roiland is responsible for much of the most outlandish elements, while Dan Harmon brings his experience working in sitcoms to ground things somewhat. So it's a little surprising that Solar Opposites is actually the more conventional of the two series.

At heart, Solar Opposites is very much a sitcom. Rick and Morty uses the family sitcom setup as a jumping-off point for space-faring, multiple-universe spanning, brain-melting insanity. Here though, the storylines (weird as they may be) resolve mostly around the domestic life of the Shlorpians and their interactions with the Earthlings. The kids deal with the age-old problem of trying to fit in at school. It takes place almost entirely on Earth.

Which is not to say that things don't get weird. The more domestic elements are contrasted with what the show itself describes as "sci-fi bullshit". Most of it revolves around alien technology or one of Korvo's inventions. Whether it's killer robot wives, time travel, mind-control devices or shrinking rays, they create plenty of chaos, resulting in lots of grizzly violence and often leaving a large bodycount of hapless humans behind. 

One of the alien pieces of technology creates the series's ingenious subplot. Yumulack uses a shrinking device to shrink humans who cross him (bullies, teachers and many others) and puts them in an ant farm like structure in his walls. Throughout the season we cut to the people in the wall, who have formed a tiny society that could have come straight out of any Mad Max-esque dystopian sci-fi thriller. The society eventually becomes ruled by a dictator, and we follow a group of rebels trying to take him down. 

In episode seven Terry and Korvo Steal a Bear the subplot becomes the main plot, and almost the entire episode is dedicated to the climax of the story of the wall people. Meanwhile, the Terry and Korvo plot mentioned in the title is glimpsed only occasionally in the background. Apart from the fact that everyone is tiny the wall people's plot is played pretty straight-faced. It's almost a show in its own right, and it's extremely well done. This side-plot is perhaps where the series most hints at how the series could experiment with different storytelling techniques. It's the only place that's really featuring serialised storytelling- the main storylines are otherwise self-contained sitcom plots.

Rick and Morty fans looking for something in a similar vein to keep them going between seasons should not be disappointed, but it is still different enough to keep it from feeling like a mere rehash. Similarly, anyone who doesn't find Roiland's schtick funny, it isn't going to change your mind- it's fully let off the leash here. And free from broadcast network standards, so is the salty language.

The basic premise of the show is a story we've seen played out before, whether in more serious sci-fi or played for laughs in the likes of classic 90s sitcom 3rd Rock From The Sun. Like in every such story, the aliens struggle with adjusting to living amongst the humans. But jettisoning one of the frequent tropes of these stories, here our aliens are not in disguise but live out in the open. Nobody particularly ever seems surprised to see them and there never seems to be any danger of them being taken by the government or anything, The show isn't really interested in such ideas, and is much more interested in wacky adventures. 

Solar Opposites doesn't lean so heavily on the high-concept sci-fi premises as the Adult Swim show, and it somehow feels less cynical too. As a debut season, this is off to an extremely strong start, and we can't wait to see where it will go next. The second season has already started streaming, and a third, 12-episode season has been ordered for 2022. The Shlorpians seem to be here to stay.



IN A NUTSHELL:  An unashamedly silly mix of sitcom and 'sci-fi bullsh*t' that proves Roiland is no one-hit-wonder.