For those who missed the memo, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. In my personal opinion, 2020 was about leveraging technology and making the time spent isolating at home feel “worth” something. However, 2021 is about exhaustion and uncertainty… exhaustion from adjusting to and/or creating a new version of life, and uncertainty about the future. This future (and decades ahead of it) is the setting for David Weil’s new dystopian sci-fi anthology, ‘Solos.’
What is the story about?
‘Solos’ is a set of seven stories, each of which is meant to play at our deepest fears, especially at this very moment. Every story takes a futuristic invention or breakthrough in technology and weaves around it a premise that makes human beings uniquely… human. Anne Hathaway is Leah, a physicist who has a deeper desire to discover time travel than she leads on. Anthony Mackie plays Tom, a man who discovers the love that connects him to his family while talking to his clone. Helen Mirren is Peg, an old woman out in space. While in conversation with her AI companion, she discovers that there may have been many adventures on Earth that she has left behind, only if she’d shown more courage. Sasha (Uzo Aduba) has been living in a pandemic-protected homestay for 20 years and must face the possibility of going back into the world. Constance Wu is Jenny, a woman who tearfully recounts the moments that led her to an endless waiting room. Nicole Beharie plays Nera, who has to confront the side effects of a unique pregnancy. And finally, narrator Morgan Freeman comes together with Dan Stevens in the show’s first -- and only -- non-Solo where they unravel the revelation of a life without any real memories.
Depression and drama driven by the adverse effects of technology, now or in the future, seems to be the flavour of the season. Add to that the unlimited time to introspect over the meaning of life (and that’s not even a purely fictional pursuit at this time), and we’ve got ourselves a good enough concept for a television show. Thankfully, ‘Solos’ isn’t really about technology per se as much as it is about how the human experience responds to such adversities.
Six of the episodes deal with existential dread, and rely heavily on the actor who is at their centre since these are mostly monologues. Thus, Hathaway’s time travel enthusiast speaks to monitors displaying versions of herself in different timelines, Mackie’s Tom is speaking to a clone, Aduba and Mirren speak to Siri-like helpers, and Wu indulges in serious power-play with the audience as the camera focuses on her face. I’m not sure if this works for television as much as it does for theatre. The goal itself is to find a thread that connects each episode of the season (the most obvious one being the finale). This may not come through at the end, as some stories are more powerful than the others. Director Zach Braff adds some light-hearted moments to ‘Leah,’ when she talks about “13 Going on 30” being her favourite time travel film with a woman in it. ‘Peg’ is buoyant in the way the writing visualises opportunities and love lost just through the spoken word. ‘Sasha’s story is perhaps the one that hits closest to home, considering how comfortable many of us seem to have become with the quarantined existence and how it may be difficult to mingle back once it’s no longer required. ‘Jenny’ is the heaviest in its written word, using unnecessary metaphors where it isn’t required. The most under-developed stories are, however, ‘Tom’ and ‘Nera,’ both of which could have really flourished with a few more minutes and some hold on what emotion they were trying to evoke.
If ‘Solos’ can hold any attention, it is because of the A-list stars that make up its cast. Some actors have the burden of carrying weak stories on their shoulders, especially Wu and Aduba, and both ladies breathe life into the uneasy reality of their existence. It is a pleasure to watch Mirren, Mackie and Hathaway perform as well. Freeman and Stevens are scary and delightful and sad and everything else in between, in the final segment, even if the story itself is disparate.
Music & Other Departments
Each episode in ‘Solos’ is distinctly different in look and feel, even if dystopia is the common element. Production designer Ruth Ammon and costume designer Shiona Turini create different environments which feel tangible and alive.
From what I can see as the trend, stories in and around the pandemic are automatic interest-pique, and this one has a good cast and known directors (like Sam Taylor-Johnson and Zach Braff apart from Weil). They’re all trying to do something interesting and new, while getting into profound ideas about life, which isn’t the worst way to spend your time.
The episodes themselves don’t have stories that warrant such long episodes, and the writing doesn’t really allow for a well-rounded finish, making some endings feel a bit abrupt. ‘Solos’ is a very heavy show if seen in one sitting, and is not binge-friendly. If you do end up watching the show in one sitting, the finale itself will be a major disappointment. The plots of some episodes seem a bit cringey and they require a bit more lightness in their handling than the director opts for. The acting more than compensates for the theatrical writing, but we wish they were given more time to really connect. It seems almost like a disservice to such talent when the camera cuts them off abruptly. ‘Solos’ main intention is to ensure that the audience knows that even in the fairly distant future, we don’t leave behind our humanity, but the present feels so cold and bleak for us already, I don’t believe that such a heavy show would be a silver lining.
Did I enjoy it?
In parts. Some episodes knock it out of the park more than others, like Anne Hathaway’s ‘Leah’ and Constance Wu’s ‘Jenny.’ Overall, it was pretty dialogue-heavy.
Do I recommend it?
I don’t see the need to binge it, nor to watch every episode. Pick your favourite actor(s) from the cast and get indulgent for 30 minutes.