How would intelligent beings from another world fare in a typical US neighbourhood? This is the premise – explored to hilarious effect – of Solar Opposites, an adult animation created by Justin Roiland and Mike McMahan about a family of aliens from the planet Shlorp.
The show follows scientist Korvo (voiced by Roiland), his partner Terry (Thomas Middleditch, from hit showSilicon Valley) and their replicants – the Shlorp equivalent of children – who unwittingly take refuge on Earth after fleeing their destroyed home planet. The first season was shown on Hulu in 2020, and is now being released internationally on Disney+ with a second season starting in March.
Also along for the ride is The Pupa (Liam Cunningham in season 1; and Sagan McMahan in season 2), an infant-like life form that each escaping Shlorp family was issued with when they left their doomed planet.
Although Korvo hates everything about Earth and its inhabitants, Terry has willingly assimilated and indulges in as much popular culture as possible, spouting phrases like “roll with the homies” and threatening to kill himself if Frasier turns out not to be real.
The pair’s replicants, the supercilious Yumyulack (Sean Giambrone from The Goldbergs) and more compassionate Jesse (stand-up comedian Mary Mack) are singled out and mistrusted at school by their peers and teachers because they are aliens, and are suspected (often rightly) of impressive feats such as reprogramming the school’s computer so it becomes an artificial intelligence.
In the first episode, Korvo is intent on repairing the family’s spaceship so they can finally leave what he considers a “human-infested crap hole without a single redeeming value”.
Unfortunately, he manages to burn off both his feet while drilling into Earth’s core, leading to his discovery of the children’s TV character Funbucket and a considerable amount of destruction.
Memory harvesting, with nanobots
This chaos carries through into episode two, where a misguided desire to be liked by their neighbours prompts Korvo and Terry to contaminate the town’s water supply with nanobots to harvest people’s memories.
Meanwhile, Jesse sets out to convince Yumyulack that not all humans are mean in a bid to stop him from shrinking and collecting them. Inevitably, both ventures soon spiral out of control.
Fans of the hit animated sitcom Rick and Morty (another of Roiland’s creations, alongside comedy writer and producer Dan Harmon) will be quick to notice the parallels between the shows. They share an animation style that vividly fleshes out the different worlds, alien technology and often ridiculous characters. And their central protagonists, Rick and Korvo, harbour a cynical disdain for their situation.
But while the human Rick in Rick and Mortyis an existential nihilist (he has visited so many different dimensions with such infinite possibilities that it seems obvious to him that everything is pointless), the aliens in Solar Opposites could be forgiven for their questionable outlook and approach to human life. As Korvo proclaims, “I’m from outer space! It’s not clear to me why you have to cook bread twice.”
Roiland and McMahan make good use of the trope of aliens adapting to an unfamiliar life, providing their take on everything from Shlorpian biology (blobby organisms called gooblers sprout from their heads during extreme stress) to alien customs around sex.
The show has its darker moments, too, such as when Yumyulack’s suit (on this occasion, sharp spears protrude from it and impale people) brutally butchers an entire room of people, or when the aliens lobotomise a school bully by pouring diet cola on her exposed brain.
This feeling is underscored by the seemingly innocent entity, The Pupa, whose destiny is to eventually terraform Earth into a version of Shlorp, using data stored in its DNA.
Perhaps most disturbing of all, however, is the post-apocalyptic civilisation of shrunken people that is developing in Yumyulack and Jesse’s bedroom wall. It’s a vivarium of sorts, used to house all the people who have been shrunk by Yumyulack’s shrink gun and whose turmoil leaves both replicants largely unmoved.
The aliens’ lack of awareness or regard for the world around them and the disastrous results of their actions is a key theme that recurs through the series.
It makes for entertaining and action-packed storylines, but also introduces more complex issues like freedom and morality, while sharply underlining what happens when a species (er, that would be us, channelled through the Shlorpians) regards itself as superior and all-powerful.
Ultimately, this is what makes Solar Opposites so engaging. It is confidently executed animation that isn’t afraid to be both clever and silly, and will delight fans of Roiland’s past work and new viewers alike