Losing a lead actor is a nightmare scenario for any series, especially when the circumstances are as fraught and the voice work is as recognizable as Justin Roiland’s. Season four of Solar Opposites opens with Korvo getting shot in the throat by a voice-changing ray. It’s initially jarring to hear the stumbling, extremely Roiland-esque narration read by Dan Stevens, but the actor’s plummy English tones are actually a perfect fit for the uptight alien. And while a “voice-changing ray” might sound like a laughably perfunctory solution to the problem, it’s likewise a perfect fit for a show that never takes itself too seriously.
The new season begins with Korvo suggesting that his family rein in their zany antics to prevent their young Pupa (Sagan McMahan) from going berserk again. With this in mind, Korvo and Terry (Thomas Middelditch)—the parental figures in this odd alien household—take up boring white-collar jobs at a company that makes rakes. But once it’s been used to launch a few self-referential gags about the show’s lack of stakes, the whole conceit is abandoned so that the family can get back to their usual hijinks: blasting people with dick-rays, genetically engineering hyper-intelligent dinosaurs, and checking in on the shrunken humans who’ve been forced to live inside Jessie (Mary Mack) and Yumyulack’s (Sean Giambrone) bedroom wall.
Life behind the wall continues to act as a kind of show within the show, as factions of tiny humans battle for control of the domain. Season four devotes an entire episode to this subplot, and another one to the show’s other subplot—involving a Green Lantern-esque space force who end up with a hapless Earthling in their midst after Korvo and Terry shoot him into space.
Compared to the manically jokey, heavily self-aware antics of the main story, the B plots are told almost as straight-faced genre pieces. The fact that these season-spanning tales are much more densely plotted and, at times, sincerely emotional than the main story adds another layer to the winking meta-comedy of Solar Opposites. It’s almost as if the writers are saying, “Sure, we could just give you a Mad Max-style dystopian epic if we wanted to, but first we’d like to make you watch Terry trying to bake sourdough bread for Nancy Silverton after accidentally turning himself blind and also invisible—using an invisibility ray, naturally.”
In general, season four holds true to the scatological, self-awareness of the show’s prior ones. The comedy is as chaotic as ever—a mad blend of pop-cultural references and meta-gags, some of which land and some of which don’t. A running bit about The Office’s Pam and Jim feels dated and uninspired, as does a fight scene parodying the climactic lightsaber duel from The Phantom Menace. But moments like Yumyulack admitting that he doesn’t have a defined character—“You’re stronger than me from carrying all the character work,” he tells his sister—is funny in a way that only a series this willing to embrace its own shortcomings can be.
Solar Opposites isn’t really a series that can grow or change, as its characters don’t have interior lives and its makers are committed to whipping up parodies that don’t say much of anything. These self-imposed limitations ultimately make the series a bit like the alien family’s own busted spaceship: unable to ever take off into a new stratosphere but sufficiently full of high-tech gizmos and extra-terrestrial lunatics that there’s never a dull moment.
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