NYCC 2022: Talking SOLAR OPPOSITES With Series Co-Creator Mike McMahan

Solar Opposites
Image via Hulu.

Animated sitcoms have been pushing boundaries for the last three decades. Starting with perennial favorite The Simpsons, shows like Family Guy, American Dad and Rick And Morty all have pushed comedy in more outrageous, and in some cases, downright gonzo places that it seems like there is virtually nothing that would be off limits. And the extends to the science-fiction comedy Solar Opposites, which just finished its third season on Hulu. (A fourth season is already in the works and Hulu has just announced the commissioning of a fifth season for 2024.)

But Solar Opposites co-creator Mike McMahan will tell you that there are things to be said for not pushing things too far.

“You never want somebody at Disney (a majority stake holder in the streaming service) who looks at the big red button that cancels the show and be like ‘It’s time to press that button,'” advises McMahan with a smile.

“We never really explicitly say this but we occasionally dabble in Alf-sort of situations where he’s kind of like pulling his tie like Rodney Dangerfield looking at the camera,” states McMahan, speaking with press backstage at this weekend’s New York Comic Con. “We’re trying to write a comedy and we’re trying to never have rules that could make the show less funny than it could be, but then keep enough rules is doesn’t feel like you’re just watching a joke book. So occasionally, when you least expect it, we like to break that wall. We like them to be a little more aware of it but not so much so that you’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve seen you guys do that stuff before.'”

Created by McMahan and Rick And Morty co-creator Justin Roiland, Solar Opposites centers on four roughly humanoid aliens who escaped the destruction of their home planet Shlopr and whose ship has crash-landed on Earth. They bring with a Pupa, a slug like creature designed to ultimately grow to enormous size and terraform a planet into a new homeworld for the displaced Shlorpian people. Unfortunately, the four find themselves fascinated and slowly being assimilated into Earth culture, and eventually science-fiction high jinks ensue. The series debuted in 2020.

But has the writing staff ever pushed too far with a joke? McMahan confirms that they have, but is reticent to share examples.

“I don’t know if Disney wants us to share it,” McMahan says with an impish grin. “Usually if there’s a moment where you go ‘Wow, how were they able to do that?’ that’s because there was something twelve times worse, that was even more fucked-up. There was one t-shirt on Terry, we literally can’t tell you what it is, but it resulted in lawyers from Disney calling me, saying that people in another country were going to use my emails in discovery for a lawsuit they were in because the t-shirt was so fucked up that it accidentally was similar to a different trial that Disney was being sued for.

“I can’t tell you what it said, but I think about that t-shirt all the time. Finally when they called me I was like ‘Guys, we can just do a different stupid t-shirt.’ I kept claiming I didn’t know the Disney IP that they were talking about and pitching different ones like ‘Peter Pan-sexual’ stuff like that.”

McMahan also gets to deal with Disney lawyers whenever the show pokes fun at characters (i.e., Intellectual Properties) that belong to other studios. For example, in the new holiday special which just dropped onto Hulu last week, a rather familiar Halloween character shows up, the Great Pumpkin, far away from the confines of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang. But how can the show get away with using a character that isn’t owned by Disney?

“If we’re saying something funny usually we can get away with it,” NcNahan explains with a laugh. “Sometimes we’ll get a call from Disney IP being like ‘What is this?’ and we’re like ‘You got us on that one. We’re just being idiots.’ But on the Great Pumpkin, all of our holiday specials are commenting on holiday specials. There’s only like a couple of big holiday specials that we’ve all seen a billion times and it’s mostly the Great Pumpkin. So having the Great Pumpkin and subverting what makes the Great Pumpkin special and then riding its corpse around to try to get out of the Don’t Breath situation they were in is classic Solar Opposites heart-felt holiday stuff.”

McMahan doesn’t spent all his time on phone calls with Disney lawyers, but it does seem to be a not unsubstantial job responsibility for producing the show. So much so that he has leveled-up on his contact with Disney’s legal division.

“We’ve had a lot of calls with Disney’s Standards and Practices,” he says. “In fact, we had to go to a whole new Disney legal group called Legacy, which I didn’t even know existed, because we were making so much fun – Disney owns a lot, I don’t know if you guys know this – we were making so much fun of Disney IP that we had to go to new lawyers that only protect Disney IP. They love us.”

And Solar Opposites‘s occasional biting of the hand that feeds it extends to making jokes about their streaming service home at Hulu.

“We stole that from The Simpsons,” McMahon jokes, referencing how the classic animated series would make fun of its network, FOX. “When they make fun of FOX, it’s like saying ‘We’re a partnership, we’re you’re identity,’ right? And I think us making fun of Hulu is the only time anybody’s ever really talked about Hulu. Hulu just loves the attention! You know what I mean? There’s no bad press. So if we have an alien being like ‘Fuck, I hate Hulu!’ there’s a guy at Hulu going ‘Did you fucking hear that? Somebody just said the word “hulu” on television! We don’t care why!’ But they know it’s coming from a place of love. Hulu is why why we get to make a crazy fucking show like Solar Opposites.”

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About Rich Drees 7022 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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