Releasing Solar Opposites a week after the return of Rick and Morty was a weird call. Justin Roiland’s new Hulu cartoon has a lot in common with his Adult Swim hit—enough that it makes it impossible to not directly compare the two. Both are smart, cynical, frequently vulgar and grotesque comedies that parody sci-fi and sitcom cliches. Both feature Roiland’s distinctive art style. Roiland himself voices one of the two main characters of Solar Opposites, a brilliant alien who doesn’t know or care how to get along with others—which should remind you of Rick Sanchez, who is also voiced by Roiland. This isn’t a Simpsons / Futurama situation, where despite a common creator and art style the two shows were thematically and structurally far apart. Solar Opposites feels like it could be a direct spinoff of Rick and Morty, or even some weird parallel universe version of it. And coming out during one of the rare stretches where new Rick and Morty episodes are actively airing every week only highlights these similarities.
Those unavoidable comparisons do a disservice to Solar Opposites, but not that big a one. There is more to this show than its adjacency to Rick and Morty, although it’s not nearly as striking as Adult Swim’s hit. Solar Opposites isn’t as funny as Rick and Morty, and isn’t as narratively or emotionally complex; it feels like a couple of ideas that might’ve popped up in an Interdimensional Cable episode for a single scene each, grafted together and expanded into an entire series. This is the kind of show that repeats the same basic plot in back to back episodes halfway through the season—and also the kind of show where that plot involves an unexpected sci-fi disaster hitting a school party where aliens are trying to impress their human classmates.
Those aliens comprise a makeshift family unit that crash landed in California after escaping their planet right before it explodes. Imagine Superman’s origin story, only instead of a baby, it’s an adult scientist tasked with seeing if their race should settle on the new planet, his foolish partner who quickly falls in love with Earth’s junk culture (voiced by Thomas Middleditch), two “replicants” who come off as young teens or tweens and conduct their own experiments on mankind, and a silent “pupa” that’s effectively a baby but will one day grow into a creature that kills all life on Earth so that the aliens can repopulate it. The pupa often gets its own subplots, and its wordless adventures and background gags are consistently more entertaining than the main storylines.
The best part of the show features none of these characters. The two younger aliens like to shrink down humans and put them in a small community they’ve built in their bedroom wall. Imagine one of those elaborate hamster cages but it’s as big as a wall and stocked exclusively with miniaturized people. There are recurring C-plots about the post-apocalyptic society that has developed in the wall, with Alfred Molina and Christina Hendricks voicing two of the main characters. There are a lot of references to various ‘80s and ‘90s sci-fi movies in these scenes—and they’re almost all called out as such by the characters themselves—but there’s more to them than just pop culture references. The wall subplot is a tightly coiled comedy thriller that rarely plays into an episode’s main story and only occasionally mentions the aliens that are the show’s main focus. Solar Opposites would be a better and more inspired show if the people in the wall took center stage instead of their alien captors.
Beyond that tertiary storyline, Solar Opposites is best at its loosest. Roiland’s semi-improvisational style returns on occasion, with the opening credits having a slightly different voiceover every episode. His ramshackle, half-assed delivery is almost always funny, and the show’s concept and storylines are usually so undercooked that it makes Roiland’s off-the-cuff material even more impressive. Rick and Morty can occasionally make a joke out of its creators not trying that hard because it’s clear they’ve put a ton of thought into most aspects of the show; Solar Opposites can’t get away with that because it all feels a little too hackneyed. It has some clever observations and riffs on sci-fi cliches, but its attempts to satire traditional sitcom plots and rhythms don’t always land, which makes it feel uninspired far too often. It can’t escape from Rick and Morty’s shadow, but if you like that show’s sense of humor, you’ll probably still enjoy Solar Opposites.
Solar Opposites is now streaming on Hulu.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.