The strength of a monologue often depends on the strength of the performer. How unique is their presence? How deep do they dig the text? To what extent do they build an inner world for their character and an outer world to contextualize their actions? Whether it’s from oversimplified writing or poor execution, monologues can easily fall into self-indulgence, and this combination affects Amazon Studios’ inconsistent sci-fi anthology series. Solos.
The seven initials Solos the episodes, which are 21 to 32 minutes long and each center on a single performer, are vaguely preoccupied with big tech. But the show’s future anxieties are overshadowed by the gaps between the power of its cast and how it delivers more product placement than true human emotion. A little longer on the cell phone slogan “Can you hear me now?”, Many positive cries to the Carvel cake, a name about nothing Alfa Romeo cars… For all the advancements Solos uses as narrative devices – time travel, genetic testing, robot clones, space exploration, memory transfer – he cannot abandon the use of the commercial as a crutch for various character arcs. At the same time, it does not comment on what this late stage capitalism has done to us, individually or collectively. These references to slogans and companies pop up in every monologue, a shocking indication of the sweetness Solos try to envision our future self. Solos is punctuated by a lack of imagination – a critical flaw in a science fiction story. The show rarely feels like it’s saying much.
David Weil, who previously wrote for the Amazon Studios show Hunters, is responsible for most of these issues, as the creator of the anthology, director of three installments, and writer of four. Also involved are directors Zach Braff, Tiffany Johnson and Sam Taylor-Johnson, as well as writers Tori Sampson, Bekka Bowling and Stacy Osei-Kuffour (also of Guardians, Hunters, and the next one Lame reboot with Mahershala Ali). Each Solos the deposit bears the name of the person performing the monologation. Each incorporates or alludes to an example of great technology that complicates people’s lives. And each is either floated or dragged down by its central performer.
The first is Anne Hathaway as Leah, a 34-year-old woman who tries to solve the time travel problem while living in her mother’s cluttered basement. Surrounded by monitors and hundreds of light bulbs, Leah spent five years making 10,000 attempts to try and communicate with her future self – until she made contact with her future and her past. Next, Anthony Mackie plays two roles in “Tom,” as a man dying of cancer and as the robot version of himself that he paid to continue living with his family once he is. left. Then there’s Helen Mirren as 71-year-old Peg, who looks back on her life of fear and anxiety as she floats in a spaceship on a mission of no return.
Solos Leap into horror with Uzo Aduba in “Sasha,” as the woman who moved into a smart home after an international pandemic, and still refuses to leave 20 years later. The series returns to this genre in “Nera,” starring Nicole Beharie as a woman whose son appears to be affected by the advanced fertility treatments she used to get pregnant. Between these two is Constance Wu as a party girl stuck in a waiting room at “Jenny”. Then Solos ends with “Stuart,” in which Morgan Freeman plays a man with dementia found by Dan Stevens’ Otto, who seeks revenge against Stuart for the role he played in a family tragedy.
It should be a relief that each episode is half an hour or less long, but even so, some of them languish to the point of feeling boring. The truth is that some of these actors can take on the responsibility of fabricating a narrative on their own. Hathaway does, despite Weil’s screenplay’s bizarre reliance on the Verizon / Sprint feud and allusions to current pop culture, like Game of thrones. While the CGI effects of “Peg” seem a bit cheap, Mirren builds a bittersweet and heartfelt character in her segment, while Aduba and Beharie are exciting in “Sasha” and “Nera,” respectively. Others, like Mackie and Wu, fail. “Tom” particularly suffers from how quickly Weil’s script turns Tom from hating his robot twin to telling him intimate and revealing truths about himself. Mackie cannot sell the speed of this transition. (Did Weil raise a joke here about Tom’s wife’s gas Goodwill hunting?)
Worst of all might be “Jenny,” which is an absolute slog not only because the character is so disgusting and Wu’s performance is so irritating to the belly button, but because the whole point of the segment is to introduce a technological concept taken over by “Stuart.” Solos describes itself as a series that “explores the weird, beautiful, heartbreaking, hilarious, and wonderful truths of what it means to be human,” but “Jenny” in particular doesn’t fit that description once you realize that her final -minute reveal could have been just a line of dialogue in a more tightly written episode. And while “Stuart” tries to tie all the stories together, the way it plays out ends up belittling a lot of what we just watched.
The best way to experiment Solos would be to distinguish “Sasha” and “Nera”. Aduba and Beharie give the best performances here. The former is truly Shakespearean in her fiery anger at the smart home company she claims is cheating on her, while the latter communicates an ominous mixture of fear and protection towards her mysterious son. Their segments are also the most sensitive to the consideration of our symbiotic relationship with technology. What are the dangers of giving up so much of our security to artificial intelligence? What changes in our body and in ourselves when our biological processes are “enhanced”?
The two segments are equally well directed. Weil keeps his camera on Aduba’s rapid expression changes during “Sasha,” which allows us to understand her waves of anger and resignation. Johnson cleverly uses negative space in “Nera”, giving the snowy, secluded cabin where the pregnant Nera lives the eerie atmosphere of a haunted house. Solos is strongest when it devotes itself to the idea of underhanded technology, and when it focuses on the actors best suited to the demands of proactive performance. But “Sasha” and “Nera” are a rarity in an anthology that is otherwise generally familiar and sadly predictable.
Season 1 of Solos is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.