One of the most persistent trends on TV in recent years has been that of the anthology series. And full blame for this return rests at the feet of ‘Black Mirror’ creators, whose reexamination of a format which had its golden age back in the 1950’s and 60’s, couldn’t have come at a worse time. In fact, apart from ‘Black Mirror’, it’s hard to put your finger on an anthology you could safely and highly recommend and, especially hard to name one you’d endorse a full viewing of. The format’s Achilles’ heel, inconsistent quality from the varying deliveries, is evident in the majority of series that come to mind, despite the fact that there are a few outstanding exceptions, like the excellent ‘Inside No. 9’. But then we come across other anthologies where it’s tough to find even one installment worth rescuing. A fact that is even harder to swallow when the casts are often as star-spangled as the flag.
Such is the case with ‘Solos’, Amazon’s umpteenth attempt to achieve success in this field (preceded by anthologies that flopped like ‘The Romanoffs’ or other moderately successful shows like ‘Modern Love’). The cast of this latest effort features celebrated names such as Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Uzo Aduba and Anne Hathaway, all of whom were given free and solo run of the stage in an episode to showcase their talents. As if it were a bottle episode, each installment features our illustrious interpreter in a closed space where he or she engages in a monologue or interacts with themselves. The series constructs a series of situations in which this is possible, aided by the cutting-edge technology available in this near future in which the show is set. As such, we wouldn’t be faulted for believing then that such a restrictive setting might indeed serve as a stage upon which our performers talents shine, were it not for the fact that the writing, overly artificial and ornate, represents a far greater challenge to the actors than the spatial restrictions. They are backed into the corner, trying to make credible orthopedic utterances from the pen, in most episodes, of screenwriter David Weil, whose inability to hit the right tone for the tales he wishes to tell already had us suffering in the series ‘Hunters’, where he once again signed a giant-killer in Al Pacino, and then made him sweat buckets with his pretentious style that results in distorted, phony dialogue.
And when it comes to pretensions, ‘Solos’ is by no means lacking either. In addition to the constricting format, trying to shift the register in each story so that the future the anthology strives to unfold, episode by episode, is narrated from a wide range of styles and perspectives. However, nothing here works well for him. It fails to move when it wishes to be moving, it won’t have you laughing when it spirals into the maddest-cap comedy, nor is it interesting when it gets all momentous. Each story hides twists that due to the brevity of each installment, are revealed quite quickly but whose revelations don’t pack the punch required to have viewers staggering. In the worst episodes, like the one starring Anne Hathaway, the series erringly blends a light-hearted tone with the drama of our protagonist’s discoveries. In the best, like the episode starring Constance Wu, a top-rate performance cannot disguise the fact that the series has nothing to say beyond delivering a more or less predictable Black Mirror-esque twist. It’s clear to all that David Weil is no Alan Bennett, and that these monologues from the future are unquestionably far worse than the monologues of the past. You’d be far better served resuscitating ‘Talking Heads’, the original anthology aired by the BBC back in the 1980’s, or the new version released last year, currently available on Filmin (and which we already reviewed on this blog), and you’ll be coming out a winner with either one.