Amazon’s ‘Solos’ Features a Notable Cast in a Blend of Emotional and Dark Tales From the Future

The future remains moody in Amazon’s new anthology series “Solos.” We sense that as technology grows more advanced and intricate, we will apparently keep turning into a more atomized species, yet still seeking love and acceptance. That seems to be the theme of most futuristic programming these days and “Solos” adds to the crop with a mixed, glossy collection of stories. Each episode is more like a monologue, where a well-known actor plays a personality existing in some era just around the corner. Since the show is essentially its own brand of talking heads, some dialogues turn out to be more engaging than others, but when they work they do have a personal, haunting punch.

“Solos” is the brainchild of writer David Weil, who previously worked on Amazon’s fun, Nazi-hunting show “Hunters.” Not surprisingly, Weil was also a writer on CBS’s recent revival of “The Twilight Zone.” The stories in “Solos” are set in the future, but do not get too obsessed with technology or massive visual effects. Those elements play a more subtle role. More focus is given to the human angle of each story. In the first episode, “Leah,” Anne Hathaway plays a woman named Leah attempting to communicate with the future via special screens, in order to figure out a cure for her mother’s illness. At first there’s a hint of comedy when Leah seems to accidentally contact herself in the past, but the interaction then gradually turns into something more emotional and piercing. It becomes a script about the futility of obsessing over wanting to change what has already transpired in life. 

One engaging aspect of the series is how it allows space to showcase the raw acting talent of artists we tend to associate these days with popcorn genre movies. In the episode “Tom,” Anthony Mackie plays a wealthy man stricken with a fatal disease who is interviewing the clone who will literally take his place. Some of the writing here can take on a typical, easy tear-jerker tone, especially when Tom remembers his wife’s funny little habits, or how seeing his daughter for the first time changed his whole perception of life. But Mackie pulls it off with great emotional power that makes us forget he’s best known for being one of the “Avengers.” Even when the monologue grows a bit tired, Mackie is superb in his performance. Each episode ranges from about 29 to 32 minutes, which was an extremely wise choice. None of the chapters ever overstay their welcome. 

In its visual style and dead serious take on how technology will change but human nature will not, “Solos” will easily garner comparisons with other shows like Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror,” which has been the main inspiration behind all of these neon-lit, moody takes on what’s to come. You can sense traces of it in an episode like “Stuart,” where Morgan Freeman looks like a serene grandfather sitting on a beach, enjoying the view of a futuristic ocean, until the narrative reveals he might be a memory thief being tracked down by a man seeking revenge for what was done to his mother. In “Peg” Helen Mirren sits in a spaceship alone, venturing into the stars because life on Earth always felt so empty to her. Like Freeman, Mirren is one of the great screen veterans in the season and so she flawlessly delivers a heartfelt monologue about never feeling love or attention, then remembering a would-be date that offered the possibility of love but it never happened. The writing here also has fun imagining a future where the elderly will be looking back with nostalgia at Tik Tok. Although it is puzzling how the show limits itself when it comes to truly imagining other aspects of the future. For example Mirren’s Peg floats off into space listening to David Bowie’s overused “Space Oddity.” While Bowie is certainly timeless, surely in the future there will be new forms of music, or nostalgia will be defined by Taylor Swift.

Other episodes play with more paranoia, like “Sasha,” in which Uzo Aduba plays a woman entrapped in her own home, terrified of walking out. Constance Wu is also fantastic in “Jenny,” about a woman waiting forever in a waiting room and soon realizing she’s missing a lot of memories. Depending on how tolerant you are of dialogue-heavy programming, “Solos” might prove to be an easy binge. It revisits familiar territory when it comes to how we think about the future these days, but it is highly watchable to admire some good acting that doesn’t depend too much on grand visual gestures. When Helen Mirren looks out her spaceship window at the Moon passing by, it’s not about the CGI shot of the Moon, but of how the character remembers making wishes as a child. This may not be one of the year’s great shows, but it is an enjoyable one that reminds us we’re all still human, no matter how advanced we think we’ve become.

Solos” season one begins streaming May 21 on Amazon Prime Video.