It may not have the rabid fan base of “Rick & Morty” but there’s a similarly subversive sci-fi family comedy from some of the same players over on Hulu that’s building its own following thanks to sharp writing and excellent voice work. On one level, Hulu’s “Solar Opposites” is a send-up of family sitcoms—think “Modern Family” if one of the families was replaced by a clan of homicidal aliens—but it’s much smarter than a traditional sci-fi parody. Returning with a second season of adventures for everyone’s favorite Shlorpians, “Solar Opposites” maintains the same breakneck pace as the first, and should satisfy fans who made the first season the most-streamed comedy on Hulu.
Justin Roiland, the co-creator of “Rick & Morty,” co-created this show with one of the Adult Swim hit’s writers, Mike McMahan, and much of the humor template is the same as the worldwide smash about a mad scientist and his wide-eyed grandson. Once again, there’s an irascible, smarter-than-anyone-in-the-room scientist partnered with a more naïve sidekick who constantly blows up his admittedly bad plans. The scientist this time is an alien named Korvo, perfectly voiced by Roiland, a madman from the planet Shlorp who hates humanity and is counting the days until his kind can destroy this garbage race to take the planet for themselves. Countering that energy is Terry (Thomas Middleditch), Korvo’s partner, a Shlorp who is fascinated by human beings in a very different way, trying to understand them and enjoy their company before he has to fulfill his role in their destruction. They have two other partners on this mission who fit the parts of children in a traditional family sitcom—Yumyulack (Sean Giambrone) and Jesse (Mary Mack)—who get to spin some of the more familiar sitcom kid tropes into something much darker.
For example, one of the recurring plotlines on “Solar Opposites” is that Yumyulack has an entire community of shrunken people that are living in his wall, humans who have annoyed him enough to pull out his shrink ray and zap them down to size. Some of the funniest material from season one involved the entire civilization that formed in that wall—one that ended in bloodshed in a war led by Tim (Andy Daly) and Cherie (Christina Hendricks) against the villainous The Duke (Alfred Molina)—and that picks up again this season with a serial killer subplot in the wall with an investigation led by a character voiced perfectly by Sterling K. Brown, one of the heroes of the revolution that ended season one. In the first season, the wall subplots often got a bit too much screen time, but the opposite is true this year. There could be entire shows that take place in the wall, but that’s kind of the point—while Korvo and Terry are acting like idiots in the real world, life and death scenarios are playing out under their feet.
The wacky hijinks of Korvo, Terry, Yumyulack, and Jesse drive the action of each episode and the set-ups here remain strong and creative from the first episode of the season to the last. Plot arcs include a trip to England where Korvo finds other Shlorps living way more out of the spotlight than the “Solar Opposites” (yes, they refer to themselves by the title of the show regularly this season in a very funny tongue-in-cheek manner, along with the occasional meta-joke about how Hulu isn’t giving them a big enough budget); creatures devised by Terry that seek to destroy hipsters who talk about cheese plates and wine from Brooklyn; Yumyulack’s experiments with ‘Big Dick Energy,’ including a council on such a thing led by Idris Elba; and a very funny bit in which Korvo keeps using a “Lake House” device to send letters back to a younger Terry in an effort to improve his present-day behavior. Of course, he takes it a bit too far.
Roiland is basically doing a riff on Rick in his Korvo character in personality type and voice work (excitably annoyed), but it fits the material here too. Middleditch leans into the awkward character he’s refined on projects like “Silicon Valley” but dials up the dumbness a bit to make Terry more of a counter to Korvo. Giambrone has a great voice for animation (he was also great on “Clarence”) and Mack fits in well, but some of the best voice work this season takes place in the wall, where Brown rocks just by taking every predicament he’s in completely seriously. Great vocal performances also pop up in supporting roles including famous faces like Tiffany Haddish and animation legends like Maurice LaMarche.
Season two of “Solar Opposites” works primarily from the quantity school of joke writing in that the breakneck pace means more gets packed into a single 22-minute episode than most feature film comedies. It’s a speed scenario designed to hide any potential misses—by the time one joke might fall flat, another joke has already connected—and it makes for a show that zips by enough to reward repeat viewings to pick up any jokes missed the first time. The second season actually unfolds in significantly less run time than “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” and it’s the kind of show that feels tailormade for streaming services (despite initially being set up at FOX). It’s incredibly easy to sit back and enjoy it an entire season at a time.
While the misanthropy can be a little overwhelming at times and the balance between the Korvo/Terry plots and the wall feels off at times in both years, there’s an ambitious unpredictability to the writing on “Solar Opposites” that elevates it in every episode. Instead of relying on the most obvious “Third Rock from the Sun” jokes in the book, McMahan and Roiland are constantly invigorated by the endless potential of their concept. There are no plotlines too out there for this show, and it’s that unexpected sense of humor that keeps it humming. Maybe human beings are worth saving after all. [B+]
“Solar Opposites” Season 2 debuts on Hulu on March 26.