*Warning Contains Strong Language*
This week I decided to dive into Solar Opposites, the brainchild of Justin Roiland and Mike McMahan, two of the brilliant minds behind Rick & Morty. Solar Opposites is a new series available exclusively on Hulu that follows a family of aliens who came to Earth in order to terraform our planet, likely ending humanity as we know it. But no worries: it’s a slow-burning mission. The terraforming device is a pupa which they must slowly raise to maturity.
What’s weird about this (other than the obvious) is I’m not sure what type of hero that makes the aliens? They’re not anti-heroes. Rick Sanchez was an anti-hero: anti-social, morally ambiguous person who is wildly ill-fit to don the crown of savior. He doesn’t like helping others and fucking hates personal growth, but can nonetheless be counted on to save/grow when absolutely necessary.
Don’t get me wrong: Rick is ruthless, brutal, selfish, and (ironically) self-destructive. But his begrudging care and aid to others makes him redeemable. Heck, he’s even likeable since, like many anti-heroes, he fits nicely into a comedy duo where the laughs come from the uneven pairing between the “straight” and “zany” guy.
All that to say, I don’t think Solar Opposites is offering anti-heroes. Anti-heroes are flawed yet redeemable. We root for them despite. Solar Opposites tells the story of bored suburban aliens whose worst disaster is behind them. All they have left to do is hate humans, hurt others with no consequences and wait for their pupa to grow and destroy Earth.
It’s like if the Simpsons only motivation was waiting for humanity to die. Sure they’re funny (the whole idea is funny), but there’s no redeeming motivation here. You can’t root for them. To logically root for them is to actively root against your own species. Worse still, ending humanity isn’t even a driving passion. It’s a passive, impersonal goal.
Still, one thing Solar Opposites does have in common with Rick & Morty (and me!) is having buckets of fun with everything meta!
One of my all-time favourite meta moments comes from Rick and Morty Season 1. Morty’s just been injected into the body of a homeless man who serves as the living, breathing business venture, “Anatomy Park.” Morty is exploring said park and reading off the names of the rides:
Morty: [walking through Anatomy Park for the first time] This is insane! Spleen Mountain…Bladder Falls…Pirates of the Pancreas.
Rick Sanchez: You got a problem with that last one?
Morty: Huh? No, I’m just reading them out loud in the order that I see them.
Rick Sanchez: Okay. If I sounded a little defensive, it’s because Pirates of the Pancreas was my baby, you know? I got a lot of pushback when I pitched it, Morty. I guess I’m still a little defensive.
In this moment, Rick is riled because he personally created & pitched the 3rd ride. Several people, apparently, didn’t like the idea of the third ride while it was still in the concept stage. This exchange takes place during the 3rd episode.
Similarly, there are some fun meta-moments in Solar Opposites. My favourite example happens early in the season.
BACKGROUND: To understand the example, you have to know a little bit about pilot season and how shows series go to air. Basically, the second episode (and the others for that matter) are only created after the pilot has been greenlit for a series.
Although I can’t speak for Solar Opposites’ exact experience in this process, pilots are normally presented to a slew of executives and test audiences to receive feedback and make adjustments in order to resonate with a broader audience (big network productions aren’t usually meant for niche audiences).
It’s only after this gruelling process of testing—feedback—adjustment that a pilot may (or may not) be approved as a full-fledged series. It’s highly competitive too. Out of 20 pilots, networks only choose 4-8 to greenlight for series.
Got that? Good. In Solar Opposites the following conversations take place:
Korvo: I knew it! We’re unlikable, aren’t we? Is it the SciFi stuff? Do I smell bad? What is it?
Terry: Looks like people generally just don’t like us. One guy hates you.
Terry: Uh, some dude. Tyler.
Korvo: I don’t even know anyone named Tyler!
And later (more darkly):
Terry: Are you willing to do what it takes?
Korvo: Do you mean sex stuff?
Terry: That’s possible, yes.
Korvo: Then yes.
Terry: Let’s aggressively make people like us!
In these scenes, the main characters become obsessed with changing themselves enough to be likeable after receiving highly specific feedback for why people don’t. These scenes are in the 2nd episode, the one created just after the pilot was greenlit.
Digging in a little further, this scene is also an interesting example of thematic reversal. Think about it–the characters are killing time until they can destroy humankind, right? Humans, at best, are disposable entertainment. We see this repeatedly as the children shrink people to imprison in a gigantic terrarium in their bedroom called “The Wall”.
So clearly humans are an expendable lesser species… yet the aliens still want to be liked by humans! As one puts it: “I want you to like me without earning it. I want unconditional like!”
Lol, why would they care?
There are other paradoxical discussions sprinkled throughout. In one episode the sister-alien tries to convince the brother-alien that people aren’t mean; they’re going through difficult times! In her words, mean people are “projecting their insecurities onto your nipples!” That’s a nice message, right?
Nope. In the effort to convince him, the two end up at a biker bar where the sister-alien realizes the secondary lesson of the story, that “some people are really really bad” and that “humans are complicated”, but she “didn’t think they’d be so complicated they’d try to kill us!”
Come to think of it, it’s kind of a weirdly moral series:
DON’T do sex stuff to make people like you. DO realize that some humans are unevolved bigots, and you don’t have to worry about their opinion! Stressing out too much will come back to kill you. Literally! Smart people tend to be sad… but DUMB people cause a lot of unintended damage. DON’T get overly-attached to fictional characters or think you have the right to control them. Always be sure to break up your robot swarms! Finally, my favourite: Recognizing you suck is the first step to desuckifiying!
Still, even for all these absurdist features, I can’t help but feel the vacuum of the story’s stakes. Understand, Rick and Morty’s storylines knew exactly how to hit maximum stakes. Hell, their opening credits would pop out half-a-dozen new premises every season.
Clearly, these writers know how to create compelling narratives. But Solar Opposites doesn’t offer those types of stories. No one’s in danger (even the people in the terrarium are essentially biding their time). The goal isn’t to explore uncharted planets or discover new dimensions. They’re not on the run from anything. They’re not trying to reconnect to family late in life or save old friends. Instead, they’re just marooned in Suburban America, impatiently waiting for the end of human life.
Nihilism is the idea that human life has no meaning. This is almost post-nihilism: the idea that the meaning of life is waiting for humanity to be destroyed and something else to come along.
After watching the series, my spouse pointed out an interesting comparison to hyperrealistic art. Quick background, hyperrealism is a recent art movement that emerged out of photorealistic art and alongside advancements in technology. Hyperrealists purposely aim to imitate and exaggerate the sharp, high-definition photographs created by computers and digital imaging. The point is to create a simulated image that renders details in an almost overpowering, “life-like” way.
Basically, it’s art that’s so detailed and hyper-accurate, it represents a new perspective on reality, one available only by the advancement of technology. The end product often evokes a vaguely uneasy feeling in the viewer because, let’s be honest, high-definition cameras and image processing aren’t really that flattering. Point of fact, most people find hyperrealistic art a little off-putting. Creepy even. But, of course, likability isn’t the goal here.
As my spouse pointed out, Solar Opposites is about waiting for humanity to end. The protagonists are arrogant and capricious, yet ironically vain. Even the seemingly sympathetic shrunken humans trapped in “The Wall” manage to turn everything into a class-system filled with violence and corruption, seemingly because they can’t come up with any other way to function. Call me crazy (and my spouse for convincing me of this) but this almost feels like a hyperrealistic narrative.
If so, I think it might be the first example of its kind?
Regardless–-If you’re a ride-or-die nihilist or just a big Rick & Morty fan, the series is definitely worth watching once or twice. As I previously explained (I think?) the pilot’s rough. Most pilots are rough. They’re literally competing to be everything for everyone. It’s just the nature of a network television series. My honest suggestion? Skip the pilot in favour of the 2nd or 3rd episode—those ones usually give you a better idea of the creator’s vision.
Spoilers: don’t expect a crossover episode (let’s rip the bandaid off now). For that matter, don’t expect a fun, easy-going escapist adventure. This just ain’t that show, sweetie-pie.
Honestly, you may not like it. As the adorably, foul-mouthed immediately-want-to-adopt-her-as-my-grandma, Ruth, says:
Basically, if you’re going to watch this, know you’re watching something weird. Like, weirder than weird. Like a lot of things going on right now, it’s definitely interesting. Just also a little jarring.