It’s weirdly fitting that a Zoom call to talk about Solar Opposites begins with a kvetch session about Covid.
“Mike and I dodged it for years,” says Josh Bycel, one of the brilliantly funny animated show’s longtime executive producers. “My whole family had it twice. I never had it. And then I remember I was not feeling well — this is like a year ago, now — and I tested and it was two lines! I was looking at it like, ‘This can’t be true! There’s no way!’ I had thought I had dragon blood.”
“I hate that when you test, the second line pops up instantaneously,” adds Mike McMahan, co-creator of the popular Hulu series. “It’s like, ‘Fuck!’ It’s so fast!”
“We’re wasting your time talking about Covid,” laughs Bycel.
At which point our conversation turns to the matter at hand — the Solar Opposites Valentine’s Day Special, which debuted earlier today on Hulu.
For the uninitiated, Solar Opposites follows the insane exploits of four aliens — and a pupa — sent to Earth to terraform the planet into a new home for their species. Later in 2024, the series is heading into a fifth season that will directly link with the standalone Valentine’s Day special.
In the special, the Solars, as they’re affectionately known, selfishly strip the world of all love, creating a devastating impact that turns all of humanity into Margaritaville denizens. Out of that, even more insanity ensues, as parrots conquer the world, Planet of the Apes style, provoking an intensely bloody, squawking battle.
To ultimately put things right and restore love to the planet, the group’s lead aliens, Korvo (Dan Stevens) and Terry (Thomas Middleditch) must consummate their own long-burning desire for one another, culminating in a same-sex “marriage of the century.” The marriage is not a one-off event, it turns out, and will carry forward into Season 5’s narrative throughline.
“This sounds like a very highfalutin, artistic thing to say for a show about dumb aliens, but we took it where the characters wanted to go,” says Bycel. “This was the natural progression of their relationship. And for us, it made all the sense in the world.”
“We’re not making some big statement,” admits McMahan. “We’re just following the hearts of the characters. And, truly, it feels so natural. This show isn’t about gay rights — but it has a gay couple in it. The show is about people doing ridiculous, alien funny things that happened to be gay. And it kind of happened organically.
“And if that means that it’s a show that you love because you get to see yourself represented in it in a way that straight people have since the dawn of TV — and that it isn’t making a big deal about it — then it can be the show for you. We love making it. We love these characters. We love laughing. We love having them do crazy alien things.”
METRO WEEKLY: This episode is… I don’t really have words for it.
MIKE McMAHAN: I hope it means you liked it, then.
MW: Oh, I loved it. I loved everything about it. Especially the Planet of the Apes parrots, which was mind-blowing.
McMAHAN: That main parrot that says, “No” — the Caesar from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes — is Josh Gad, which I think is really funny.
JOSH BYCEL: He did a big voice for us in an earlier episode, and so —
McMAHAN: — we brought him back for it.
BYCEL: “Would you do just this?” He’s the best and game for anything.
MW: This is, what, the third holiday special?
McMAHAN: We did Christmas, Halloween, and this one.
MW: Is it more or less difficult to create a holiday special outside of the narrative arc of the show itself?
McMAHAN: A big part of the DNA of Solar is that everybody making it is a big TV nerd, not just for a specific show, but just the way people make TV and have made TV. And so getting to do holiday specials is like a dream because it’s like, “Oh, now we get to make fun of even the concept of a holiday special while getting to do one.” Because we love it. It’s like, “Oh, we’re going to make fun of it.” But it’s because also we really like them.
We had done the two standalone episodes, and then for this one, going into it, we knew that we wanted to end with [Korvo and Terry] getting married because it was important for us. And it affected the show going forward. So in [the upcoming] season five, the Valentine’s Day special actually takes place between episodes one and two, and then a lot of season five is about being married for the first time and what funny stories come from being newlyweds.
And it was almost freeing to know that this was going to be both a special where we could make fun of Valentine’s Day and was going to be a real impactful thing for the show itself. That made it feel more special.
MW: The homoeroticism in Solar has always been present, but you drive it home with this one in a way that literally left my jaw on the floor.
McMAHAN: Well, we’re always trying to push and be surprising, and it was like, “Terry and Korvo have always been in love. Let’s just codify it and see what stories we get out of it.” You know what I mean? There was always something funny about it being a thing that was clearly there, but at the same time not fully there. It created a funny tension and a weird dynamic.
Then we were like, “Actually, we just love that these characters love each other. Why don’t we just let them be married? They still can be funny and alien and all that stuff.” And then we find out in season five, that yeah, that was a great idea. We get to tell even more stories about characters who disagree with each other on everything. Terry and Korvo, now that they’re married, still love each other, but they still drive each other nuts. That’s a classic TV formula.
BYCEL: So much is happening in this special, but they actually kind of discover what love is at the end. They’re like, “We have a mission partner affection.” No, no, no, you have love. And I think that that was one thing that we were like, “Well, that fits perfectly in with a Valentine’s Day episode. No matter how crazy the Valentine’s Day episode gets, it’s still about love, ultimately, in the end.” And when we have aliens who don’t know what love is, it’s a great way for them to discover it — right before they have weird alien sex to save the world, of course.
MW: What I really love about the show is how it follows a strong narrative logic. There’s a logic to everything that happens, even when it seems outrageous. You don’t come up with implausible solutions necessarily. I mean, sometimes, okay, a ray gun can change things —
McMAHAN: [Laughs.] Yeah, yeah.
MW: — but you actually don’t go for the easy solutions. And this was extremely clever because the Solars had stripped the world of love and had to find a personal way to restore it. I admired the narrative structure of that.
BYCEL: This goes way back to the beginning of the show. I came on very, very early, and one of the things I always loved about the way Mike pitched this show is — and obviously he was coming from Rick and Morty, which is an amazing global phenomenon, but it’s more nihilistic. But Mike always said, “I want this show to have all that, but also have a heart.”
It doesn’t matter how insane the episodes get, there’s always heart and there’s always affection that these characters have for each other. And it feels like this episode really takes that to another level. And truly, literally, they’re getting married at the end of it. And that’s one of the reasons why I think people have responded to Solar Opposites in the way they have — there’s always a way in through emotion, and they always come to an emotional point in every crazy episode.
McMAHAN: And the narrative structure, too, that I think you’re picking up, is when we’re structuring an episode of Solar, I like it to feel like we’re walking downstairs and everything is normal, and then you trip and go falling downstairs and all your shit goes flying everywhere, but then you catch yourself and you finish walking downstairs where people can see you. So it’s almost like you have that insane adrenaline hit of you’ve lost all control and anything could happen, but then there is a thoughtfulness from an emotional level that ties it up.
We just want to write a show that’s funny and fun and vibrant and is nothing you’ve seen before, but that you actually do care about and the only reason to care about it is if the characters care. And they might be crazy aliens where they can set off parrots that take over the world, but the solutions are always going to come from a place of emotional honesty. And if you have that, it gives you license for the craziest shit imaginable, which I love about Solar. And having [Terry and Korvo] have sex to save the world is just one of those things.
MW: Let’s talk about that sex scene. I’ve maybe rewatched it five or six times. It was one of the funniest and most shocking scenes I’ve seen in an animated show.
McMAHAN: But it’s so funny because they don’t have penises. You know what I mean? There’s something funny about the human form and what we’re allowed to show. Because we had just murdered a bunch of parrots, and you probably weren’t shocked by that, but seeing two penis-less aliens go at it is somehow shocking.
MW: It was your shot choices. The close-up of Korvo’s eyes at a key moment, for instance. Sometimes animation doesn’t let our imaginations take over. It puts everything in front of us, literally. But this scene allowed our imaginations to fill in the blanks in any way we wanted to fill in the blanks. It’s letting us interpret what really is going on between them.
McMAHAN: But also, at the same time, it’s pretty explicit. We had done the joking around, like, “Oh, will they or won’t they?” stuff. And we would have them kiss before, and we’ve had them stumble before, like in the episode when Korvo and the Red Goobler went off. It’s one of those things where we wanted to be so explicit with their feelings for each other, their physical intimacy, them getting married and still have it be hilarious the whole time.
But the explicit nature of it was kind of like their pride. We’re glad that this is what these two characters are into, and that they’re in love, and married, and we’re going to still be shocking and funny, but we’re not dancing around it in this episode.
BYCEL: I like when it gets really steamy and you just see the hand on the glass. It’s my little homage to Titanic. I’m always like, “That car got so steamy when they were having sex in there.” But I mean, we always like to play. I just think animated characters having sex is funny because it’s just so weird and you’ve really not seen it much. We had one earlier episode in The Wall that we had to pull back on because we thought it was too graphic. We thought it was too much.
McMAHAN: Yean, there was one part in an earlier episode where the animation came back, and it was in The Wall when Cherie and Tim are having sex, and it was so graphic, with so much nipple and pubic hair, that we changed it to a silhouette. So that was the first time we’ve ever backed off, I think, on our own, because it just distracted from the rest of the episode so much. And in this episode, I never felt like that. This made me laugh the whole time. It’s just joy, and makes you just laugh out loud when you see it.
BYCEL: Our artists, our directors are amazing, and the work they do is truly incredible.
MW: Is there anything on the cutting room floor from the scene that didn’t make it?
McMAHAN: [Laughs.] We’ll ask. We’ll ask and we’ll have them send it to you, Randy.
MW: Sex scene aside, the episode ends with a lovely exchange of vows.
BYCEL: The wedding of the century, I believe it’s called.
McMAHAN: I love a comic book wedding. I love a wedding where Superman is there and Swamp Thing is in the back row. And just seeing a church filled with all these characters from previous episodes — ending on a wedding is just so fun and that was the fun of it for me.
MW: So we basically enter a same-sex union into the show, and as you’ve pointed out, season five will then carry through this plot line. Will it carry beyond the upcoming season?
McMAHAN: Yeah, I think so. I mean, to us, they’re married. I’d say the throughline for the upcoming season is newlyweds. But there are a lot of shows that have had plenty of seasons where married couples don’t quite see eye to eye all the time.
Ours happen to be aliens and ours happen to both be male, but that doesn’t change the type of storytelling you tell. People disagree. People want different stuff. To me, the magic of all of it, in a way, is how non-shocking, and how simple, and how understandable having these two be married and telling stories feels like every relatable marriage story you’ve ever seen on TV. I mean, we do put a lot of cartoon alien Solar Opposites twists on it.
But what I really like about it is the shocking thing isn’t that they’re a same-sex couple. That’s the normal thing about them. Everything else is weird. And it just makes you look back and be like, “Why weren’t there a hundred shows like this since the dawn of time?” It’s so natural.
And I’m straight and Josh is straight. We’re just telling stories about people in love who want things. We’re not the ambassadors for this type of change in the world. We are just writers who love these characters and are watching them go through this stuff.
And it turns out that love is love, and that marriage is hard for anybody, whether you’re an alien or a human, or if you’re gay or you’re straight, or anything. And it’s just so freeing and fun to have that. And I wish there were a hundred more shows like this just all the time. It’s bizarre to me that there aren’t.
There should be a hundred shows like this in different flavors, in different ways. Solar just kind of continuously proves to me that, if the show is funny and the characters are likable, then that’s all that really matters. And that’s all that really matters about life, too. If you’re likable and lovable, and you’re a good friend, or a good father or whatever, nothing else matters. At the end of the day, let’s just have fun. Let’s just laugh. Let’s just watch something that makes us feel good.
The Solar Opposites Valentine’s Day Special, along with the first four seasons and previous holiday specials, stream exclusively on Hulu. Visit www.hulu.com.
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