Solos review: Star-studded sci-fi that’s let down by the material

Solos , Amazon Prime’s latest sci-fi anthology series, bills itself as a show that ponders what it means to be human in an increasingly atomised, technologically advanced world. From this vaguest of premises, it tells the stories of eight persons across seven episodes, each set a while in the near future.

In addition, it boasts probably the most distinguished casts ever assembled for television, including Oscar-winners Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and Anne Hathaway. Except for the ultimate instalment, the actors are largely isolated and effectively perform a half-hour monologue. A couple of things swiftly become apparent: that these are some of the finest performers working today, and that the material doesn’t quite match their talents.

The many worlds of Solos are underpinned by futuristic technologies, from extraordinary fertility treatments to memory transplants and time travel. Each episode starts with a question from Freeman in voice over, announcing a central theme. They are invariably the type of thing you could slot in to the trailer for a forgettable, mid 90s blockbuster: in the event that you travel to the near future, can you escape your past? May be the threat outside greater than the one within? What lengths would you go to end up again?

Dan Stevens and Morgan Freeman in Solos

Jason LaVeris

If these queries are designed to provoke some soul searching in the viewer, they don’t achieve it (though for the record, my very own email address details are no, no and anywhere but Surrey). More often than not, the episodes that follow them boil down to parables with simple lessons like “cherish your loved ones” or “make your voice heard”.

Despite this, the cast can conjure some engrossing performances, and a couple of stories show more promise. Watching Peg (Mirren) reminisce about the one which got away on a journey through space, for example, and Jenny (Constance Wu) provide a tearful account of the worst day of her life is frequently heart-breaking.

The highlight of the series is Sasha’s (Uzo Aduba) story: 20 years after entering an idyllic “stay home” throughout a deadly pandemic, she doesn’t trust her virtual assistant’s assurances that the exterior world is now safe. The countless allusions to covid-19 are a mixed bag – sometimes they feel poignant, but at other times they appear like a cheap, cynical way to mine emotion from the audience.

There is thankfully levity among all of this anguish, but all too often Solos falls back on pop culture in-jokes that are sure to age like milk; a prolonged discussion of the Game of Thrones finale in Hathaway’s episode is a particular low point. In addition, it displays a peculiar have to name-drop today’s technologies, as if wanting to draw a clear line between its universe and our very own. We don’t even make it out of the first episode before Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is mentioned, and investors should take notice that while Zoom persists for quite some time in to the future, TikTok will seemingly fall by the wayside.

Anne Hathaway’s character in Solos is unhappy about the overall game of Thrones finale

Jason LaVeris/Amazon Prime Video

Amid this jumble of modern-day references, it isn’t clear what point Solos wants to make about technology, if some thing. Black Mirror , another tech-focused anthology show, has been criticised for the vagueness of its themes during the past (writer Danny Lavery memorably described it as “what if phones but too much?”), but at least it has always had compelling visuals and a darkly comic tone to fall back on. Solos has neither of these blessings.

We have never spent additional time looking at screens than we’ve in the past 12 months. Nor have we ever endured so many TV shows to choose from. Solos is a slickly produced, star-studded series, but beyond its cast – and an ethereal score from composer Martin Phipps – it has nothing to provide that hasn’t recently been said, and said better, by someone else.

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Solos , Amazon Prime’s latest sci-fi anthology series, bills itself as a show that ponders what it means to be human in an increasingly atomised, technologically advanced world. From this vaguest of premises, it tells the stories of eight persons across seven episodes, each set a while in the near future. In addition, it boasts…

Solos , Amazon Prime’s latest sci-fi anthology series, bills itself as a show that ponders what it means to be human in an increasingly atomised, technologically advanced world. From this vaguest of premises, it tells the stories of eight persons across seven episodes, each set a while in the near future. In addition, it boasts…

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