Written and conceived by Jonathan Nail SOLO follows the exploits of one Scott Drizahl stuck in space after a canceled reality series about a trip to mars… which sort of reminded me of the canceled TV series Defying Gravity. But that’s where any similarities end.
Pilot episodes are always the toughest to do and this one certainly tries to deliver tone and pacing with a minimum of exposition in the shortest amount of time. SOLO has no qualms about being a slap-stick comedy with plenty of overacting, where the only straight character seems to be the on-board AI computer named… wait for it… PHAL 9000. I know, right? ‘Goofy’ comes to mind, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good ‘goofy’.
Having seen all 9 episodes I dare say this show delivers. Although set in space, only about half of the show really is, and the remaining time is evenly distributed among the characters on earth. I won’t say more, but that’s a good thing, as Jonathan Nail set up some very nice storylines that should be fun to explore. The Yakuza looks especially promising. But I said too much already.
The show has plenty of energy and chutzpa, and delivers on situation comedy. Jonathan takes full advantage of the range of storytelling tools available to him, and that includes subtitles, smash-cuts and strategically placed title-cards to underline the comedy. It works. As the show progresses the characters — particularly Drizahl’s — are further fleshed out and become lovable.
Of course it’s easy to love the scrumptious tallness that is Michele Boyd from over yonder The Guild as Drizahl’s long-suffering wife. Her sexuality oozes from the screen in ways it never did on The Guild (frankly, her Guild character scares me) and one wonders if Drizahl is really such a ‘schmuck’ if he managed to bag such a trophy-wife. But it is the various support-characters that really make this work. Melissa Dalton and Amol Shah for example play hapless members of the ground-crew stuck with figuring out a way to bring Drizahl back dirt-sides, and although their characters are painfully stereotype, we love them the way we love the Simpsons sideshow characters. I wonder how that analogy came about…
But seriously, stereotypes seem to work more often than we give them credit for. In our thirst for the ‘new’ and ‘different’ and ‘fresh’ we sometimes forget that ‘same-old-same-old’ works just as well and gives us a certain comfort zone we need when starting into a new show. They only grow stale when the creator pushes the stereotype-button one too many times: “you know this type of characters and you love it, so here’s some more of it. Because you like it. You MUST like it and thus like my show! You MUST! Yes! More accent! More cowbells!”
Drizahl’s character is slightly over-the-top in a Jim Carrey-ish fashion, but the only one who in any way could steal his thunder in that department is Jay Caputo, who certainly launches himself head-first into his Jack Spratt character, the man responsible for this whole interplanetary mess. While Drizahl is up there circling to mars and back in a space-ship-with-gravity, Caputo is desperately trying to peddle whats left of his show to whoever would take it and make pointless passes at Drizahl’s wife. But the center of the attention is still Drizahl and rightfully so. He carries the show and his antics, though silly they may be, are enjoyable and funny. We lurvs this guy.
Jonathan knows what he wants and where he wants to go with his show. He’s had a lot of time to think about it, and it shows. Spending a year building the space-ship set in his garage has given him that time, and he is trying to establish a comedic balance while still toying with the emotional aspect of a schmuck in space, his desperate wife on the ground and… a sardonic AI that looks the way it’s called. Every show needs some time to gel and settle in its environment and although SOLO is still on its way, I can see a defined style developing.
A few interesting jabs at pop-culture and the newly emerging web series culture are hidden away throughout the show, making a second viewing obligatory. Besides the obvious and I dare say necessary 2001 reference it seems that poor Drizahl has nothing else to do but watch the web’s best web shows and leaf through the Safety Geeks calendar. And have virtual-reality one-on-ones with none less than Brittney Powell (Safety Geeks, Inventions). Doesn’t sound so bad to me. For those with keen eyes, you will even spot Tom Konkle (Safety Geeks, Inventions) in the SOLO command center.
Overall the show is truly funny and enjoyable. It’s humor is borderline decent (but just about) and derives more from the characters than what they actually say, or simply a combination of both. I love it. Please sir, I want more.
Jonathan Nail has the tools, the crew, the production values, the talent and the idea… and he’s got gold in his hands if he can keep it going like this. The only downside so far is that after the first season, the future of SOLO — and by extension Drizahl’s — is still uncertain. Another great show rocketing out of the cesspool of Hollywood, or another cosmic belly-flop heading for the Black Hole of the Internets? SOLO has delivered so far. Let’s hope we get to see more!
Jonathan — like the character of Jack Spratt — is confident he will be able to round up the budget for a second season and deliver more of his goodness. Our advice… just stay away from the Yakuza.