Solos cast: Morgan Freeman, Anne Hathaway, Helen Mirren, Uzo Aduba, Anthony Mackie, Constance Wu, Dan Stevens and Nicole Beharie
Solos creator: David Weil
Solos rating: 2 stars
Solos is a new sci-fi anthology series made up of seven stories with episodes no longer than 20-30 minutes. Created by David Weil and written by Weil, Tori Sampson, and Stacy Osei-Kuffour, the series is not Amazon’s answer to Black Mirror — as one would presume after going through promotional material — but something altogether different.
Solos is less interested in the creeping, insidious dangers of new technology in the fashion of Charlie Brooker’s creation, and more in how it might change us as humans and affect our sense of who we are. For the most part, the sci-fi part of the stories takes a backseat.
In many ways, Solos is a product of the Covid-19 pandemic, and not just in how it features frequent references to the ‘virus’ and lockdowns. The episodes are, without exception, set in a single location and usually involve a character talking to themselves, or a version of themselves in the manner of soliloquies in Shakespearean plays.
Since it is an anthology, the episodes vary considerably in quality. Some of them are entertaining and worth watching, and some of them are decidedly not. The writing is often good, but in the cases it is not, even relatively shorter length of a particular episode would seem interminable.
You see, when a drama is almost wholly dependent on the lines actors are speaking, and there is no other driver of the plot, the quality of the writing becomes paramount.
In the PEG episode, by far the best episode of the show, Helen Mirren plays the role of an old woman who joins a programme for the elderly, which involves a one-way trip to the farthest corners of the universe (a pretty far-fetched claim, even for a show set in the future).
As she travels, she talks to an AI assistant about her life, her regrets, and her disappointments. Here is a sad story. She was a shy girl who could not return the advances of a handsome boy due to crippling anxiety and a suspicion that he did not really love her; he was just being kind. She says she was invisible for others, who only saw her when nobody else was there, and before she could enjoy her life, old age had crept upon her. Thus, the programme.
The whole episode is incredibly sweet and heart-warming, and it is largely due to Mirren, who is just getting better with age. She elevates the writing. Other notable episodes are Anne Hathaway’s LEAH and Uzo Aduba’s Sasha.
There are recurring themes of isolation, grief and mental illness that work well within the context of the stories, and hints that the stories are part of the same universe. Just do not expect anything profound, and you are good to go.