Like most anthologies, Amazon Prime Video’s tech-themed seven-episode series, Solos, is a mixed bag. For every short that skillfully uses the framework of a futuristic invention to delve deeper into human nature, there are others that aren’t entirely convinced of their own point. The show has lofty Black Mirror aspirations, but doesn’t back it up with smart Black Mirror writing. Like the show’s title suggests, each episode (mostly) revolves around a single character and is set at a single location. At best, these shorts are thought-provoking, incredibly moving, immersive ways to spend half an hour. At worst, they’re little more than opportunities for A-list performers to flex their monologue muscles.
You don’t have to watch the episodes chronologically, though Peg would benefit from being viewed directly after Tom as the two are related, and Stuart is best left till the end as it weaves narrative strands from several past episodes into a concluding chapter. Given that several episodes play out like one long monologue, the show’s repetitive format make it hard to binge watch. So if you’re looking to watch only select episodes, here’s a handy ranking of each Solos short, from worst to best:
Even Morgan Freeman doing the whip/nae nae can’t salvage this tepid short about an Alzheimer’s-afflicted man who’s handed the technology to retrieve his memories. Attempts to infuse the material with emotion fall flat, thanks to an overly sentimental tone and a sluggish pace that even a plot twist can’t enliven. Stuart is dialogue-heavy, with Freeman’s unhurried descriptions of films, music, nature, people and his past experiences taking up most of its 31-minute-long runtime. It’s a lot of talk for an episode that doesn’t really have much to say at all.
The alcohol-induced rambling confessional humour of Jenny serves as a counterpoint to the more somber tone of most other episodes, but if the short was aiming for endearing, it misses and lands at grating instead. Constance Wu plays Jenny, a woman who breaks the fourth wall to drunkenly dish about a range of topics including, but not limited to, her struggles with infertility, her hot neighbour’s Adam’s apple and how much Spider-Man can bench press. It doesn’t help that her monologue has a stilted, writely quality to it, like someone reading out a novel, not reliving their own experiences. “It’s hard work to be interested in somebody when somebody is whittling on,” she says at one point. Hard agree.
Peg takes place in a future so distant, TikTok is a relic of the past. It follows Peg (Helen Mirren), a 71-year-old woman on a one-way space mission with no one but the onboard AI to talk to. The conversations don’t flow quite as organically as they do in the other shorts — the AI asks questions contrived to get Peg to talk about her most vulnerable moments, which gives Mirren the chance to deliver a series of monologues with a wavering voice and watery eyes. She’s endlessly watchable, especially when the short gives her the chance to have fun with the material, but the loneliness of space, as a setup for Peg to talk about the lonely life she’s lived, wears a bit thin by the end of the episode’s 31-minute runtime. Peg would work better as a podcast. The camera stays fixed on Mirren’s face and there’s not much visual variety, so shutting your eyes and envisioning the scenarios Mirren vividly describes would actually enhance their impact.
Movies about the horrors of childbirth, like Rosemary’s Baby (2000) or Inside (2007), work because they tap into a woman’s primeval fear of being targeted when she’s at her most vulnerable. The eerily effective Nera is a worthy addition to this canon. As Nera, Nicole Beharie plays a heavily pregnant woman snowed in at an isolated cabin. The short makes the smartest use of its space, relaying information through strategically placed objects instead of dialogue and snaking through the corridors of Nera’s home to show just how alone she is. The tight 20-minute runtime helps maintain tension but minus points for that ending, a tonal shift that feels like a bit of a cop-out.
Uzo Aduba plays Sasha, a woman who’s spent the past 20 years in peaceful quarantine until her smart-home software updates and begins convincing her to leave. Sasha’s reluctance is relatable to anyone who’s spent the pandemic staying put — why venture outside when you could retreat to the comfortable predictability of life indoors? The short skates close to letting its reel-real parallels weigh too heavily on viewers, but the fluid camerawork and gradually unspooling central mystery keep it compelling. Aduba’s performance, alternating between scrappy don’t-mess-with-me-charm and panicked terror as she decides whether to trust a suspiciously benevolent AI over her own mind, is a standout.
When we think of the people we love, what do we think of first? How do we want them to remember us after we’re gone? One of the most moving shorts in Solos, Tom is also one that uses the sci-fi element sparingly, valuing quiet emotion over genre gimmickry. Anthony Mackie plays both parts in this two-hander with nuance, and as his characters engage in a long conversation that unravels their relationship, the visual of two identical men confronting each other gradually becomes emblematic of the tough questions we must sometimes confront ourselves with. There’s depth to this short, but also an overdose of saccharine sweetness towards the end that it could’ve done without.
The most fun short in the Solos anthology is also its most heart-wrenching. While most of the other episodes rely on either sharp writing or a captivating central performance to work, Leah has both in spades. As a frazzled physicist trying to crack time travel, Anne Hathaway’s comic timing is impeccable. She dials the snark up to a 100 as she riffs on the lack of time-travel movies with female protagonists, her past self’s naivete and the absolute shitshow that was the Game Of Thrones ending. Her joy is so infectious that the emotional gut-punch the short packs midway through lands even more acutely. Leah is a great example of how great sci-fi need not be about how an invention can change the world. Sometimes, what it can reveal about its inventor is just as compelling.