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<div class="paragraphs"><p>The cast of Amazon Prime Video series Solos.</p></div>
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Review: 'Solos' Sounds More Interesting In Theory Than In Practice

The show attempts to capture the universality to the loneliness we've all felt under lockdown.

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Solos

Review: 'Solos' Sounds More Interesting In Theory Than In Practice

Solos, the new series from David Weil, is a response to a shadow pandemic that has plagued us over the last year. Through seven character-driven episodes, the show attempts to capture the universality to the loneliness we've all felt under lockdown. Full of internal conflicts and incriminating confessions, Solos is effectively one monologue-athon.

Despite the Oscar credibility and theatre pedigree of many of the actors, the show however is an experiment that sounds more interesting in theory, than in practice.
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Each episode crystallises a particular aspect of our shared isolation. Anne Hathaway plays a physicist trying to decode time travel because she wants to use the future to escape the present. Anthony Mackie is a husband and father who invests in an AI replica to extend his mortality. Helen Mirren is a 72-year-old woman on a space mission of no return, regretting over lost love. Uzo Aduba's character is stuck in the same rut as us, only 20 times as long, and has gotten so used to the lockdown, she is afraid to come out. Constance Wu plays a woman recounting and reliving her worst nightmare. Nicole Beharie is a mother worried her son is growing up a lot sooner than natural. Tying all six stories together are the memories of Morgan Freeman's Stuart. But suffering from dementia, he will need help from Dan Stevens' Otto, who has motives of his own.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Helen Mirren in a still from Solos.</p></div>

Helen Mirren in a still from Solos.

(Photo Courtesy: Amazon Prime Video)

Weil's ambition can’t be faulted, but his writing can. Aiming for a rawness that captures the turmoil of people in isolation, he can't achieve any subtle emotional shading with the stilted monologues, which run the wide gamut from full-on breakdown to stand-up routines. At one point, Hathaway's Leah complains about how time travel movies are a “boys' club,” citing examples of Back to the Future, Terminator, Midnight in Paris, and Avengers: Endgame, while women only have 13 Going on 30: “The lone female-led entry in the time travel canon is a 2004 romantic comedy starring Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo. And it's not her brains that send her forward in time, it's magic f***ing wishing dust,” she says.

The science-fiction elements nonetheless render the experiences of these characters a little too distant to be relatable. Secret handshakes, smelly farts and pop cultural literacy are used as narrative shorthand for emotional resonance.

The austerity of the production and the economy of setting sound more intriguing in structure than execution.

The show, by design, is theatrical. The single-location format may have a minimalist charm, but it's a tricky thing to pull off. For the actor, it presents an unforgiving challenge. In many episodes, there are no co-stars to react to, meaning the actor must remain switched on throughout as their craft has never been more exposed to scrutiny. Stuck within the confines of a single set, there's nowhere to hide either.

And if the material is weak and soapy, like it is in Solos, the actor has the unenviable task of turning it into something engaging by sheer force of personality.

Not only does the format ask a lot from the actor, but also the writer. By eschewing a visual narrative for oral narration, the show is already asking the writer to reject the most common writing advice: “Show, don't tell.” Stories need conflict, but recounting it instead of illustrating, can get tedious to watch for the viewer.

Solos is meant to be an actor's showcase. So, no scenery is left unchewed. But there is a strained quality to the whole affair which feels like these actors are performing for an audition. They all sound like mouthpieces for Weil. For instance, Aduba's exhaustion from 20 years of isolation is visible. But the overtly theatrical writing can only cover up her emotionally naked performance with a fabricated angst which rings false. No doubt the format lends itself well to a quarantine-appropriate production. Not only is it cheaper to stage, it is safer too. The soliloquy, too, feels like a fitting device because we have all been thinking out loud in self-isolation. This is a key theme which informs the episodes, as characters navel-gaze over their solitude. Memory, family, disconnection, death and regret are common denominators.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Morgan Freeman in a still from Solos.</p></div>

Morgan Freeman in a still from Solos.

(Photo Courtesy: Amazon Prime Video)

Technology too. To call the show an antithesis to Black Mirror however may be a bit reductive. But what Solos offers is a reductive, and a little too self-satisfied, understanding of isolation. What it lacks in provocative ideas, it tries to make up for in unearned optimism. In our shared sense of solitude, Weil hopes to showcase the importance of human connections during confinement. But Solos is well-intentioned to a fault. In its stagey-ness, Weil forgets just how much of isolation is spent in stasis, waiting for things to happen while being confined to our homes. There are few quiet moments of reflection in Solos, but plenty of grand displays of verbal acrobatics. Often, it is the silences between the words that are revelatory. In these moments are distilled the agony of being alone and devoid of human contact.

All seven episodes of Solos are now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Our Rating: 2 Quints Out of 5

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