Solar Opposites is back! After rolling out a strong season four amid Hollywood’s summer of strikes, the animated Hulu series has just dropped a Valentine’s Day special, in the tradition of its earlier Halloween and Christmas specials—while fans await season five later this year.
io9 got a chance to talk to executive producers Mike McMahan (Star Trek: Lower Decks, Rick and Morty) and Josh Bycel about alien romance, tiki culture, new cast member Dan Stevens (brought ahead of season four to replace Justin Roiland), the show’s love of obscure but hilarious pop-culture references, and the game-changing moment that pops up at the end of the special.
Cheryl Eddy, io9: Before we get into the Valentine’s Day special, and since we didn’t get to talk ahead of season four—Dan Stevens works so well as Korvo you almost forget he’s not the original voice. How did you decide to cast him and what kind of direction did you give him when he was first approaching the character?
Mike McMahan: We cast a wide net. We were talking to tons of people. It’s pretty tough to recast a character that you’ve lived with for so many years, you know? I was a huge fan of Dan’s because I love this movie he’s in called The Guest—it’s this perfect little thriller, and it’s so different from his character in Downton Abbey. And we’ve seen him do comedy, too, and Legion as well. So when we heard that he wanted to do animated stuff, we [talked to him and found out] he was a Solar super fan. We didn’t have to explain the show to him. He already knew everything! And then, he dove right in and he gave us an American accent. He gave us a British accent. But mostly he had this enthusiasm and this funny gruffness in a way that felt like an alternate universe version of the character we already liked.
Our goal was—we weren’t looking for a voice to replace a voice. We were looking for a voice to be the next thing you loved. You can love the Korvo that you heard when the show started, we just also want you to love the Korvo that you’re hearing now, and have it be part of the wild, Solar Opposites nature of animation and how weird it is. That’s why we leaned into it being so different. Humorously, his American accent version of it also played great; when we sat down and started recording the episodes, we still hadn’t decided which one we were going to use because they both worked. And there was something so ludicrous about having a character go British and not hiding our work at all. It was almost like an open notes test of like, “Look, it’s a super fucking different voice!” But we’re writing up to him. We’re having a blast with him. He loves the show. He embodies Korvo in a really amazing way.
Josh Bycel: Yeah. The only thing I would add is, because of our—obviously, we’re connected to Rick and Morty in somewhat of a way, but Rick and Morty is such a massive, huge worldwide global phenomenon that they had to find soundalikes [to replace Roiland]. We felt like, because Solar is so ridiculous and so fun, and [the characters] are aliens and they have every sci-fi tool imaginable, that we might as well take a big swing.
io9: On to the Valentine’s Day special. With no love on earth, tiki drinks and parrots rush in to fill the void. What brought that idea about?
McMahan: We had the Solar Opposites remove love from the world because it messed with a menu at a restaurant they liked, which—I really loved that opening. It’s such a immediate fuck-you to Valentine’s Day.
Bycel: It’s based on your life a little bit, though, too.
McMahan: Yeah—my wife’s birthday is on Valentine’s Day and it just fucks up our dinner. We can’t go anywhere. Everybody has a heart-shaped pizza. We don’t want that. And then with the writers, we were like: “Okay, if love is removed from your life, what do you fill that hole with? What about, like, divorced dads? What do divorced dads suddenly get into?” And somebody was like, “I know a [few] that, once they got divorced, really got into Margaritaville tiki culture, and it kind of took over their life.” We all just laughed at that because it felt really honest and oddly American—and it also felt very consumerist. Our aliens love the mall. This show feels like you could air it on a TV at a Venice Beach t-shirt store, you know what I mean? Saying that we have removed love from the world and now everybody is a newly divorced dad getting into tiki culture—it’s so not Valentine’s Day, but it’s so funny to us. Then obviously, mixing in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and taking it all sci-fi, and having a Ghostbusters containment unit for love and those long Linda Hamilton scrolls that were like Terminator 2 and the beginning of Blade Runner. All that mixed up was so funny to us that it was a perfect storm of romantic and stupid and fun and cartoonish. We just loved it.
io9: How did you get Linda Hamilton to do the guest voice?
McMahan: Because she’s fucking cool as hell. She’s the coolest person I’ve ever met. She’s been cool her entire life. She totally got it. She was cracking up doing it. She knew what we wanted. Josh, she was awesome, right?
Bycel: She was amazing. She’s everything you’d want her to be. And she was so game to just sort of try everything.
io9: I’ve asked you guys about this in the past, and you’ve said Hulu is generally pretty hands-off about the content, but this episode is especially racy. Did you get any pushback whatsoever?
Bycel: We have two aliens doing weird alien sex saving the world! That’s more important than racy!
McMahan: Have we ever gotten that note [to tone things down]?
Bycel: We’ve gotten it a little bit. We somehow think it’s funny to have animated characters having steamy, racy scenes.
McMahan: There was one episode where we even saw a scene—first season, in the Wall episodes—where there was some sex that was drawn so graphically that I was, like, blushing. And I was like, “Can we just lose some of the detail from that silhouette?” [Laughs]
Bycel: We did not really get any pushback on [the Valentine’s Day special], because I think it’s just so goofy and so funny and…
McMahan: And they also love each other. They get married! Unlike our other holiday specials we’ve done, which are standalone, this holiday special where they get married at the end—that’s why we did this episode. We wanted to get them married. It just felt right for the characters and for the show. And so when you see season five later this year, the Valentine’s Day special actually takes place between episodes one and two of season five. We kind of wrap up season four in episode one, then the Valentine’s Day special happens. The rest of the season, we really play with the idea that Terry and Korvo are newlyweds, and what stories do we get from that? That isn’t just siloed in the special; that continues forward, and it becomes a part of the DNA of the show, and it’s really fun.
io9: Is season five coming this year at some point?
Bycel: It should be. I think in summer—it’s late summer sometime, I believe.
io9: As mentioned, Solar Opposites is known for its pop culture references. Sometimes they’re obvious, like the Terminator 2 stuff—but just as often, they’re weirdly specific, like the Valentine’s Day special randomly mentioning The Book of Eli. What’s the process like for the writers when you’re deciding what makes the cut? Does it just come down to trusting the audience is as nerdy as the people making the show?
McMahan: Josh loves Book of Eli! He brings it up every day. [Laughs]
Bycel: It’s stuff that makes us laugh. I’m a little older than Mike, but we [were both] latchkey kids who watched way too much TV and way too much early HBO. Was it season three, when we did a whole story based on the Sylvester Stallone movie Daylight? The deep-cut, sci-fi movie stuff—I mean, Mike wrote an entire Christmas special based on the movie Jingle All the Way, that he had never even seen before he wrote it.
McMahan: I had only seen the trailer! I had never seen the movie, and I thought it’d be funny to write an entire holiday special based on a movie I hadn’t seen. But part of what we love is—we’re not going to be cutting-edge. I think it would be weird for us to be like, “Here’s our Oppenheimer parody.” Leave those references to a show that can be more nimble and faster than us. But what really makes me laugh is: what are the things nobody asked for? When we’re talking about the references that we make, it’s a mixture of things that were important to us in the ‘80s and ‘90s—like the Stephen King made-for-TV movie Storm of the Century would be something that Terry is obsessed with.
We’ve referenced things that you might love with your group of friends, but maybe the whole world isn’t obsessed with. That’s what makes me love putting [random references] in Solar, because in a big, broad animated show, you would get the note, “Hey, nobody knows who the fuck that is.” Solar is a show that gets to break the rules like that all the time. And that makes us laugh.
io9: Might we see more holiday specials in the future?
McMahan: Actually, we’ve done another one that’s ready to go after season five airs. I would love to do a holiday special every year. I like doing little weird ones—I’d love to do a Casimir Pulaski Day episode because I’m a Chicago guy. But I also really want to do more Christmas specials. There’s something so fun, fucking with a Christmas special and twisting it around and doing a freaky weird one. I feel like that’s a real sweet spot for us. Halloween is full of mischief and trickery, and making fun of Halloween is fun, but it almost fits too well with Halloween. But yeah, I would be happy to do specials forever.
Bycel: I love the one we have coming up. It’s almost a little bit of a combo platter of some fall stuff. But what I love so much about the [Valentine’s Day] special is, as Mike was talking about, it’s not a one-off. Our fans are watching the [special], and all of a sudden they get a massive, monumental moment in the show—probably the biggest moment since [the aliens] landed on Earth happens at the end of the special. We love that you don’t usually see that.
An Earth Shatteringly Romantic Solar Valentine’s Day Opposites Special is now streaming on Hulu, along with the show’s first four seasons.
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