Solos on Amazon Prime Video: Low-key sci-fi brings one standout episode
Review: Anne Hathaway's wacky time travel entry is a runaway winner.
Jennifer BissetFormer Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
ExpertiseFilm and TVCredentials
Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
The concept of Solos,
new sci-fi series, doesn't exactly light any fires: Well-known actors deliver monologues in a contained setting over a loosely connected anthology.
Of the three episodes watched for this review (all seven are out on Prime Video now), the results are a mixed bag. Anne Hathaway stars in the first of the series -- and she hits it out of the park, with a charming, twisty and surprisingly dark ride about a woman solving time
in her basement. The Black Mirror vibe is strong.
Hathaway's episode is directed by Zach Braff and written by David Weil, who created
Hunters and came up with the sci-fi anthology idea, exploring the power of human connection through a light sci-fi element. Emphasis on the light.
While the show's confined settings each have a distinct, polished look, the next two 30-minute episodes, starring Anthony Mackie and Helen Mirren respectively, are less exciting -- dropping the pace and hinging more on the power of self-reflection than wacky time travel fun.
In Mackie's case, his character Tom sits in a sleek living room, meditating on his life with what appears to be his identical twin (also played by Mackie). By the end, it's subtly revealed why his counterpart needs the information. Yet to feel that human connection, you actually have to listen to what's being said. In other words, you'd better not have one eye on your phone.
The same goes for Mirren's episode. Her character Peg is a "senior" selected for a
travel study in the not-too-distant future. She sits in a pod traveling through space, with an AI to keep her company. They discuss why she signed up for the study, Peg reflecting on her love life, disappointments and the complex reasons she left it all behind.
It all feels like watching rambling monologues in a play, rather than enthralling stories with a beginning, middle and end. Despite the quality of the cast, their characters' personal realizations don't exactly lift off the screen. Your mileage for the rest of the series might depend on how much you like the actor and relate to what their character is saying about themselves.
The one exception is Leah. Hathaway's character, whose makeshift time travel lab in her basement is stunning. A colorful, psychedelic basement that looks like it was inspired by Joyce's Christmas-light "crazy wall" from Stranger Things and blocky Back to the Future
Leah's wish to travel into the future seems familiar -- but then psych! That thread and others are pulled in surprising directions, giving a brilliant Hathaway the task of running a gamut of emotional states, from mad scientist to breezy millennial to desperate daughter. With all its time travel movie references, you don't know where her self-aware story is going and that helps make it the best of the bunch.
The other episodes could have used this sense of fun. Still, if you're a fan of Mackie and Mirren, along with Uzo Aduba, Constance Wu, Dan Stevens and Nicole Beharie, their stories will give you plenty of intimate facetime.
Plus, Morgan Freeman's dulcet tones narrate the beginning of each entry, teasing a psychological idea. This is one of Solos' greatest strengths. While it involves a lot of listening to someone talking, at least the series focuses on the human element driving its simplistic sci-fi.
All episodes of Solos are out on Amazon Prime Video now.
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