When you sit down to do most interviews you don’t expect to talk about alien penises, but most interviewees aren’t Justin Roiland.
Roiland is best known for helping to co-create the pop culture juggernaut Rick and Morty, as well as lending his vocal talents to the titular leads, but he’s also helped create the sensational sci-fi cartoon Solar Opposites which has finally crash-landed in the UK.
Solar Opposites tells the story of refugee aliens Korvo, Terry, and their child-replicants Yumyulack and Jesse, who are forced to live on Earth after their world, Shlorp, is destroyed by an asteroid. It’s basically The Odd Couple if Felix and Oscar were aliens and had access to a shrink ray.
‘The original idea was just the title and sort of an odd couple of aliens on Earth,’ Roiland told UNILAD when we asked where the initial idea for the show came from. ‘It’s something I came up with in 2006, but didn’t do anything with and kind of just forgot about it.’
Check out the trailer:
So what saved the show from being trapped in a desk drawer forever? Enter Rick and Morty writer Mike McMahan, who helped Roiland flesh the idea out from its basic treatment into a fully-fledged and very bizarre world.
[Mike and I] were working on something completely different, and I was trying to crack this other show that was way more grounded. But as we were worked on it both of us at the same time were just like ‘this isn’t fun’, and if it’s not fun now it doesn’t bode well for the how if it goes to series. So we put that aside and I brought up the idea of aliens living on Earth, and it just exploded.
It started taking shape between the two of us; they’re plant-based, they’re stranded on Earth, there’s four of them. My initial idea went as far as ‘Solar Opposites’ and there are two aliens, and one of them is very angry and doesn’t like Earth, and the other one loved Earth, and that was all I had.
So Mike and I took that and fleshed it out into a show that has a lot of potential, and you know it’s an immigrant story and that was the thing we realised in that session, that this was a fun way to do an immigrant story through the eyes of aliens, because it allows you to go nuts and you can have a lot of fun with human culture that we know really well but is alien to them, there’s a lot of comedy that can be mined from that.
Roiland’s not wrong and Solar Opposites is a show that’s at its best when it’s mixing high concept sci-fi ridiculousness with the everyday. Whether it’s using nanobots to find out if their neighbours like them and accidentally creating sentient life, or just trying to buy a jet ski, you can guarantee this alien family will find a way to cause chaos.
If we had to reduce the show to a pithy one line, it’s probably best to describe it as Rick and Morty without the existential dread and nihilistic spirit that’s part and parcel of that show.
The decision to have Solar Opposites be more upbeat felt like a conscious effort to separate it from Rick and Morty, with which it obviously shares a lot of DNA, but Roiland has denied that it was conscious instead putting it down to the absence of two people – Rick Sanchez and Dan Harmon.
The nihilism is two things, it’s the Rick character who is defined by his nihilism, he’s dark, he’s scary, he’s unpredictable, sometimes he’s really fun, but sometimes he’s terrifying and you never know what he’s thinking. That show has that character at the heart of it so it’s going to be darker.
The other reason is that show has Dan Harmon, my partner on that show, his sensibilities and mine are very much in line on that show on what we find fun and funny, but when Mike and I set out to make Solar we had a few things we wanted to do, and have fun was the number one goal.
All the characters are a lot lighter and there’s no Rick, there’s no dark toxic force at the centre of this family, they’re all naïve and childlike in some way and it makes for a different tone. So when we were writing it we were just like ‘let’s have fun with this and have fun with crazy sci-fi stuff’.
The lack of a ‘Rick’ actually breathes a lot of life into the show as there’s never anyone completely in control; instead, Solar feels more chaotic and frenetic as you don’t really have an authority who you know will save the day, but it also allows the show to tell stories Rick and Morty probably couldn’t.
However you shouldn’t think, just because it’s more interested in having fun than in exploring the concept of existentialism, that Solar is pulling its punches when it comes to adult content.
This might be the goriest cartoon we’ve ever seen, with at least one character in every episode being reduced to a meaty pile of viscera. The language is also coarser, and far more in line with something like South Park than the relatively PG Rick and Morty.
Also, just because Solar Opposites isn’t really interested in exploring them doesn’t mean there aren’t layers to the show, and it does have something to say. As Roiland said, he and McMahan conceived the show as an immigrant story but there are other ways to read it.
Personally, we thought the show was an allegory for an LGBTQ+ family moving into a conservative neighbourhood, and the suspicion the aliens face was a metaphor for the everyday injustices that these families face. After all, Korvo and Terry have big Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street energy, and they do sleep in the same bed.
We put our thoughts to Roiland, who seemed slightly surprised with our interpretation:
Listen, there’s a lot going on in the show, because they’re aliens you can tell all these stories in this show. Like your interpretation isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s not what we were thinking per se, but now that you say it that’s a deeper meaning you can glean from the show for sure.
Our main goal with the show is to have fun with it and tell crazy fun stories, we definitely aren’t thinking about this stuff too deeply aside from the immigrant story, being a fish out of water and being very different.
That’s a very interesting take on it and it’s not wrong, and we do flirt with what are Terry and Korvo – they live in the same house, they sleep in the same bed, they see relationships that humans have, on their home world they’re all the same sex and asexual. It’s interesting that you bring that up because there is a little bit of that, it just wasn’t intentional or at least I wasn’t thinking of it, but it’s kind of cool actually.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, it was this chat that led us on to the biggest revelation of our interview – neither Korvo or Terry have penises… you’re welcome, Internet.
Solar Opposites streaming on Star on Disney+, 23rd February
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