Solar Opposites Interview - Justin Roiland

The first season of Solar Opposites is now available to binge on Hulu. If you’ve already worked your way through the series, then you know it’s a brilliant animated comedy that has some of what makes Rick and Morty great, but mixes it with the classic family sitcom in a way that is somehow both insanely twisted and charmingly lighthearted.

Since I loved the show so much, I was glad to speak with series co-creator Justin Roiland, who also co-created Rick and Morty, to discuss how working on Solar Opposites with co-creator Mike McMahan is different than working with Dan Harmon, how they keep track of sci-fi gadgets, the challenge of doing a more serialized series, whether we’ll get a plush of The Pupa, and more. You can read our full interview with Justin Roiland below, but be aware of spoilers for the first season of Solar Opposites.

How are you holding up during all this madness?

Good. We’re doing okay. It’s a pandemic out there, so we’re just staying inside and quarantining, following all the rules. Waiting for this storm to blow over.

It doesn’t seem like you guys had to worry about any hiccups as far as finishing the series and getting it out there since animation is easier to pull off remotely than live-action productions.

Yeah, I’m actually impressed with how well it’s worked. I don’t know if it’s sustainable in the long-term, but it would be cool if it was. It’s nice to have that option if people have the gear to work at home and if they can stay on top of the certain quota they need to get done. I like this working from home stuff. It’s right up my alley.

Speaking of being up your alley, it seems like Solar Opposites is deliberately a little more deranged and raunchier than Rick and Morty but also somehow simultaneously more lighthearted. How difficult was it to strike that balance?

It wasn’t too difficult. With the show, we focused on fun. Let’s make each other laugh as hard as we can. Let’s follow that energy. Let’s not put any boundaries on what we want to do at first. Obviously, you want to be true to the characters and to the rules you set for the world and the show. But outside of that we went with whatever was making us laugh the hardest and got us the most excited.

I think the show’s softer [than Rick and Morty] because the characters are. You’re dealing with four aliens who are fairly naive and want to fit in, but also some of them have issues with humanity. I think that relatability, the outsider perspective, the immigrant story, brings a bit of a softer touch to the show, because you’re in the shoes of these aliens. They’re aliens, they’re weird, and they don’t really get Earth to the same degree that humans do, but you’re still relating to them as outsiders.

We found that the aliens were likeable enough that you didn’t turn on them despite accidentally killing a bunch of humans during their adventures. That kind of stuff would be problematic if it happened on Rick and Morty. If Rick was actively killing innocent people in a way as blatant as it is on Solar Opposites, I think people would start questioning him as a character, like, this guy is fucking bad. He’s a bad guy. But on Solar Opposites, they’re so good and innocent, or at least they’re good and non-malicious. Their intents are pure. Whatever their goal is for the episode, you get it, and the casualties that are happening around them feel like completely unintentional accidents. We got to have a lot of fun with the discovery that it was okay to do that. It didn’t hurt the character’s integrity, it didn’t throw the viewer into a spiral questioning, “How can I be on the side of the characters when they’re doing this?” Because their motivation and intentions were so innocent, and, I don’t want to say relatable, because trying to shrink a giant monster that’s rampaging through a downtown city is not relatable, but you relate to their desperation to fix a problem them they caused.

Yeah, I found myself thinking about how the violence in Rick and Morty doesn’t quite have the same impact, as grotesque as it can be, because it’s fictional alien races being killed off. But in Solar Opposites, there are a lot of humans who die instead, and somehow it doesn’t ever feel like it’s worse. It’s like, “Oh, they’re aliens. They’re still figuring stuff out, it’ll be fine.”

*laughs* Yeah, it’s funny. It’s one of those things too where it’s the kind of gory comedy that I used to gravitate towards in high school. I don’t even know what you’d call it. I’m thinking of like Happy Tree Friends kind of shit. So it’s not the focus on the show, but it’s there and it makes me laugh. I’m thinking of one instance in particular, in the same episode where Terry’s trying to shoot the shrink ray at the giant Funbucket, he keeps missing and hitting other things, and he hits the bus stop booth. He just kills and old lady and a businessman.

Even in the first two minutes of the first episode, Corvo takes that drill vehicle to the Earth’s core and totally destroys Big Ben and part of the Great Wall of China in the process.

*laughs* Having no clue that he did, just completely oblivious.

Solar Opposites

On the same topic of that mischievousness that’s also innocent, The Pupa kinda works in the same way. He’s an adorable and occasionally gross cuddly blob, but he also does some sinister things to accomplish the most insignificant tasks. Where did the idea of making The Pupa like that come from?

Mike [McMahan] always compared The Pupa, at least The Pupa storylines, to those Sergio Aragonés comics in MAD Magazine. The little comics in the margins that don’t have any words but they’re still really funny and almost universally understandable. Anybody who speaks any language can pick that up and get it for the most part. Initially, we just thought, hey, let’s put a baby in here because that’s what primetime families look like. That way we can make it look as relatable and familiar as we possibly can. That way when people see it, they’ll tune in, and then we’ll Trojan Horse something completely different in that package. The Pupa is not really their kid. It’s basically a living harddrive. It has all of their homeworld’s information coded in its DNA as well as being a device with which to terraform a planet that they land on and reboot the homeworld. [Mike] and I both agreed, let’s do these little C-stories with The Pupa where there’s no dialogue, it’s all visual, and they’re just his little adventures. They’re stories where, if Terry and Corvo knew what was happening, I think they’d lock The Pupa up. He’s way too important and valuable for him to be doing this stuff.

Is there any chance there will be be some kind of merchandise for Solar Opposites? Because I feel like The Pupa would be a great plush for people to have.

I hope so! If it’s done well, I’m always a big fan of merch that’s well-made and feels like something that isn’t just a piece of shit that’s gonna break or fall apart. I remember when the South Park merch popped off back around 2000, and I bought all the plushes, everything I could get my hands on. So it would be cool to do a little bit of merch, but I haven’t heard anything yet.

How does the experience of working on Solar Opposites with Mike McMahan compare to working on Rick and Morty with Dan Harmon?

It’s different. On Rick and Morty, there are more iterative steps. We’re looking at things, polishing, punching up, and changing pretty consistently throughout an episode’s life. From breaking the story in the writers room, to outline, to script, to thumbnails, to animatics, to color, in every one of those stages, depending on the episode, there’s pretty significant rewrites and relaunches. That’s just the nature of the show. After season one, we got into that rhythm. Not on every episode, but there are certainly episodes where they’re kicking our ass the whole way through the process.

On Solar Opposites, we wanted the show to be as good as it can be, but let’s tackled it head-on and didn’t put it through all those extra stages of iteration. Let’s move quicker and see what happens. It was almost like an experiment. Let’s make this show that’s very different than Rick and Morty. It’s absent of the existentialism and the darker elements and make it a lighter show tonally.

It’s not nearly as depressing, for sure.

Yeah, and I think that kind of energy flows through the whole production in the writers room and the way we approach the show. We get the scripts locked, but we spend a lot of time rewriting and punching those up and making sure they’re solid. Even the outlines, making sure the stories we broke really track and feels as good as it can be. Once we have that locked script, aside from a lot of improv and screwing around in the recording booth, because it doesn’t cost anything to mess around and go off-script and play around with stuff when you’re in the booth. All the actors do that, which is great. Like Rick and Morty, we do punch things up at the animatic stage, and we do fix things that aren’t working, but that’s any animated show. Once you have something up on a screen, you can see if it’s not working. By the nature of the process of animation, you have that opportunity to fix it, make it better. But I guess the shorter answer is just it’s a quicker process on the writing side.

Solar Opposites

Is it challenging to be more serial with Solar Opposites? Rick and Morty has certain serial elements from time-to-time, but there are arcs that carry over here even though there’s a new plot for each episode. Does that add any pressure at all?

Not yet, but when it comes to that stuff, season one is usually the easiest because you’re getting to lay all these new concepts down. I believe serialization gets harder the deeper you get into a show. That’s when you start having bills to pay, and you have stuff that you need to deal with that you maybe didn’t consider in the early days. On Rick and Morty, it’s like one episode a season or maybe two where we get into serialization, the bigger picture of what’s going on, but for the most part it’s episodic.

With this show, we wanted to do something super-serialized because we had the idea of The Wall pretty early on. That idea was a big part of the pitch.

I love the stuff with The Wall.

Yeah, me too. At one point, that idea was really the driving force for me on the show, in the early days . We wanted to do that serialized really badly. It’s a little siloed, serialized thing to the side of the show. Mike and I plotted that out really early on, and really thought about the broad strokes of the first season of exactly how we would do it. We’d keep sneaking larger C-stories and maybe a B-story, and then eventually the surprise full episode. We mapped all that out pretty close to what we ended up doing, and we were super excited about it. We just let that momentum flow into the writing process and breaking the full stories. The process was really neat because we have this epic serialized story that’s born out of these aliens doing what they’re doing. It opened the door to us being able to tell whatever stories we wanted with the aliens as the main component of the show, and being able to treat those in a more episodic fashion. You got the best of both worlds, because you got the heavy serialized stuff, and then you’ve got the fun episodic stuff.

One thing we wanted to make sure we did with The Wall was resolve that storyline, at least the immediate story arc that we were following this season, so it didn’t feel like a big cliffhanger. There are question marks and loose threads, but it feels like a resolution. Then in season two, we’re continuing The Wall, and there’s a whole other interesting thing going on in it. It’s a really fun thing to have in a show. It really is a show-in-a-show. It’s tonally different. It’s fucking great. I’m so happy about how we pulled that off.

Did you guys have a whole episode of what the aliens are doing while the story is unfolding in the wall? There are glimpses of what’s going on, and you can see them talking to each other, so I thought you may have written actual dialogue for them to be saying.

*laughs* No, we knew we wanted to see them in the background as a running gag as a typical Solar Opposites alien episode is happening. But you’re having to put the pieces together of what they fuck they are doing. That was one of the early ideas for The Wall episode. We never recorded any dialogue, but we knew we wanted them talking and being busy, and sprinkling that throughout the storyline, but we knew the general flow of the story the aliens are doing. But if you were to say, “Hey, can we see what happened?” we’d probably have to sit down and map it out.

Earlier you talked about establishing the rules for this world, and one of the things I noticed in the show that made me curious was the movie posters that were present in the Manc Ave that Terry and Corvo build in the basement. All the movie titles are real movies, but the actor names were all fake names that sounded like the real actors names. Is there a reason for that like rights issues?

*laughs* I don’t know! I didn’t even notice that. I have no idea. It could be. I did not know that. That’s super weird. It could be some legal thing. I know the stupid fish on the wall with that song, I really wanted to license that song and get the needle drop. It was just gonna be too much money. It’s the stupid fish that sings, and if it doesn’t have the song, then what is it? It’s some weird bootleg version of it. I remember that. But now I have to look and see to figure that out.

Solar Opposites Trailer

Do you guys have a creative process for coming up with sci-fi terms and names for weapons? Some of them are self-explanatory and even scientific, but others seem like gibberish. Do you have to meticulously keep track of that stuff so there’s no question of “Wait, why didn’t they use that device here?” being posed?

That’s a really good example of continuity and serialization biting you in the ass down the road. We’ve had that problem with Rick and Morty with Rick’s portal gun, and we’re pretty good about staying on top of that and keeping that in mind when we’re breaking story. On this show, we talked about that early on. The more wild sci-fi devices and shit that we introduced, the more that’s gonna be a question. “Why didn’t they use that thing?” or “Why didn’t they use this thing?” or whatever. But if you can come up with an answer to that question that is born out of the character’s motivation or thought process for the situation they’re in, those are usually the best solutions as opposed to some McGuffin or stupid reason. As for the names, we just have fun and name shit, and sometimes it’s just the thing that makes us laugh the most, or other times it’s just a handy practical name. But keeping track of that stuff, we’re definitely going to be doing that. That’s always important, at least for me anyways. I want to have some sort of foundational continuity logic. But on this show, pure joy and bliss can very easily win out in that battle. We’re like, “Fuck it, who cares. We wanna tell this story, people are gonna be asking why didn’t we use the blah-blah-blah, but this story’s too good. Let’s just ignore it.” We’ll come up with some dumb joke.

Can you talk about what we might see in season two as far as how the story expands?

I don’t want to say anything. It’s fucking great. Mike and I have been talking a lot about just more episodes.

Without getting specific, Mike did mention that you guys have planned stories for three or four seasons.

Yeah, certainly that much, and I believe we can keep it going for quite a bit longer. There’s a lot of stuff we can do with these characters. Having the door open to sci-fi stuff, having the door open to the high school stuff, Terry and Corvo and the shit that they’re up to, and of course The Wall. There’s all kinds of cool ideas that are like The Wall that could become subplots. I really think this show has some significant legs, and it’s fun to make. Just in doing press we’ve come up with a handful of episodes where we’re like, “Okay, this would be for season three since we’ve filled up season two.” They’re really fun ideas. It’s definitely something we hope we get to do.

Will the second season expand to be longer, or will you keep it to eight episodes again? Is that something that will be coming pretty quickly down the pipeline?

Yeah, it’s eight episodes. Writing is wrapped. It’s moving along pretty quick. I don’t know when we’ll find out if we’re doing more, but I love the show, so I hope we get to do more.

Rick and Morty Season 4 Trailer

Are there any ideas have where initially you think would be good for Rick and Morty but then shift it over to Solar Opposites, or vice versa?

Surprisingly, there hasn’t been. I’m actually realizing how crazy that is. As far as I know, none that I can think of. Considering how much the shows have in common, they’re super different. Thinking back to season one of Rick and Morty, a lot of the stories were driven by invention. I remember breaking story around a certain sci-fi invention or concept like the Flowers for Algernon dog helmet. If you had a helmet that made dogs super smart. Okay, cool let’s write a story about that. If you had a device that let you go into people’s dreams and do Inception. Okay, cool. If Rick had a device that shrunk you down. So we did the shrinking thing with Anatomy Park.

I noticed that we did a lot of inventions in Solar Opposites, like the shrinking ray. There’s a ton of them. My favorite moment in the first season is when they go to the high school party with those weapons, and it’s like this action scene where they’re killing zombies,  but they’re actually healing people.

Rick and Morty is going to be going for a long time with that big episode order you got from Adult Swim. Is there a plan as to how seasons will be released? Because season four had that brief hiatus that split the season in two, and I’m wondering if that’s how future seasons will unfold to give you more time to get tings in order.

I think it’s largely dependent on how quick the episodes can get produced. I know season five is mostly in the can. They’re still gonna be reworking when the animatics come back, so that can extend the process. I believe if they have the full ten episodes, they’ll release them without a split, but I honestly have no idea. That’s kind of a question that’s outside of my jurisdiction. They do what they think is best for the show. I’m glad that they did the split because I’ve been looking at some kind of alternate, new media way to release the show since it is mostly binged. I think most people binge the show after it’s online somewhere. That’s pretty standard for the way things are nowadays. It’s not like appointment television. Some people still do that, but most people are like, “When is it available for me to watch on my schedule?” I’ve been saying we should drop an episode each month, just make it a big event. I like the idea of thinking outside the box with regards to how any show is delivered to the masses. If you do one a month, the show is alive the whole year and you’re still buying us all the time we need to make them as good as they need to be. I’m not saying that’s ever gonna happen, but I have brought that up in the past. But that just goes to the point that I have no idea what the plan is for season five. I’m sure whatever it is will be the right decision.

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