Welcome to Thanks, I Love It, our series highlighting something onscreen we’re obsessed with this week.
Mike McMahan and Justin Roiland are sharing a private joke. Many of them, actually.
They don’t care if you get it. To the Solar Opposites creators (who also worked together on Rick and Morty), it’s hilarious. And, for fans of Solar Opposites, the duo’s beloved animated Hulu series back for its second season this spring, not getting it is part of the charm.
“Nobody has ever said, ‘Terry wouldn’t be into that or ‘Korvo wouldn’t be into that.’”
“Nobody has ever said, ‘Terry wouldn’t be into that or ‘Korvo wouldn’t be into that,’” McMahan says of the show’s curious extraterrestrial heroes and their pop-culture tastes, which span from recent developments to the creators’ own youthful past.
“Taking things that are a favorite for us and breathing fresh life into the fandom of it by letting the aliens be fans of it, that’s just really fun.”
The premise of Solar Opposites is custom-made for referential humor, mainstream and not. A family of space aliens arrive on dear old planet earth and decide pop culture – all of it, spanning decades – is the Rosetta Stone for sorting out human existence. Build-your-own-frozen-yogurt bars, novelty shot glasses, Dora the Explorer: These are the artifacts of humanity.
Korvo and Terry, along with replicants Jesse and Yumyulack, provide a seemingly never-ending supply of entertainment references for the series. Nods to everything from mega franchises, like Fast and Furious and Star Wars, to lesser-known projects, like the 1999 horror flick eXistenZ, appear in Season 2. (“WHY are we talking about eXistenZ?” McMahan asks Roiland mid-interview.)
“Because they’re aliens, movies and shows from ’98 or from 2002 can be just as important to them as the brand-new stuff,” McMahan continues. “And that’s true to people. Like, I love the show Farscape. I could watch that forever. But Farscape isn’t exactly moving the needle anymore.”
“Well, it should be!” Roiland cuts in. Farscape, this reporter learned after getting all Googly, was a fictional series that ran on the then “Sci-Fi” — not SyFy — channel from 1999 to 2003.
“It’s just stuff that we remember and grew up with,” Roiland continues. “Whereas, on [shows like] Robot Chicken, they’re constantly hiring younger staff writers because they want to tap into like, ‘What’s that generation’s thing?’ But for us, we’re just all a bunch of old weirdo nerds.”
Putting a finer point on it, McMahan adds, “I would define it as [projects] that are not in the public consciousness every day, but that when we were teenagers were things that we would have talked about with our friends at the lunch table.” Solar Opposites has become that lunch table.
Like the inside jokes of any friend group worth aspiring to join, the lingo isn’t all readily accessible. The show bristles with super deep references aimed at those who recognize them, and viewers who love the challenge of figuring out what they missed. So there’s a Hangover scene, quickly followed by a Runaway Bride scene; a Sonic the Hedgehog redesign joke, quickly followed by a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles redesign joke; even an entire episode dedicated to exploring the oft-maligned 2009 Sandra Bullock film The Lake House.
To be sure, if you’re young enough, watching this show can feel like exploring an alien planet — but with the odd comfort of having guides who have been there, and done that.
Take the moment when one two-inch-tall character tells a similarly height-challenged pregnant woman that she can’t raise her baby in the plastic, premolded playset they call home. (Yeah, it’s complicated.) She replies, “Sure, it’s no Masters of the Universe Castle Grayskull Fortress of Mystery and Power For He-Man and His Foes, but it’s not so bad.” (Yeah, that’s also complicated.)
“There’s not another show in the world where that line could exist!” McMahan says, beaming with pride. “It’s indicative of everything I love about Solar Opposites.”