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Solar Opposites' Damage Control Worked, But Should It Be So Easy to Separate an Abusive Creator From Their Show?

As bad, sometimes criminal behavior comes to light, a moral quandary gets kicked down the road to the audience.
  • The Solar Opposites use their voice-fixing ray (Photo: Hulu)
    The Solar Opposites use their voice-fixing ray (Photo: Hulu)

    In the cold open to Solar Opposites's fourth season, the Solar Opposites get themselves into one of their usual jams. In this case, Terry (Thomas Middleditch) throws an errant dart at the official dartboard from Cheers that he splurged on and accidentally hits husband/mission commander Korvo in the throat. Yumyulack (Sean Giambrone) fetches the "voice-fixing ray," and with a quick zap, Korvo is good as new. Better, even, because now he's voiced by actor Dan Stevens, complete with posh-as-heck English accent. Everyone acknowledges that this is weird, but Terry is turned on by the new voice (who wouldn't be?), so the voice will stay this way. The subsequent opening credits reiterate that this is how Korvo sounds now, including in any flashback scenes, because that's just how science works. No more questions!

    It's a clever and funny scene in its own right, but if you know the behind-the-scenes drama that motivated the decision to give Korvo a new voice, it's practically ingenious. Through the first three seasons, Korvo was voiced by Justin Roiland, who created Rick & Morty with Dan Harmon) co-created Solar Opposites with Mike McMahan. Roiland used the same confrontational, stammering quality with which he voiced Rick on his other show, and that connective tissue — combined with the immersive pop-culture sensibility and outbursts of gory violence — tied both shows together temperamentally.

    In August of 2020, Roiland was arrested and later charged with two counts of felony domestic abuse in Orange County, California, dating back to an incident that January with an anonymous Jane Doe whom Roiland was dating at the time. Roiland pleaded not guilty in October 2020, and the case went through numerous pretrial hearings. When news of one of those hearings broke in January of 2023, multiple women came forward with sexual misconduct allegations against Roiland, as well as claims of workplace harassment. In March, the Orange County DA's office confirmed that the charges against Roiland had been dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

    When the news of the accusations against Roiland broke, including the multiple follow-up allegations, both Adult Swim (which airs Rick & Morty) and Hulu (which streams Solar Opposites) officially cut ties with Roiland. By June, Hulu had announced Dan Stevens as Roiland's replacement and released the season's opening scene as a teaser.

    With that one move, Hulu managed to slip past the bad publicity of the Roiland accusations, replace him with a better performer, and give Solar Opposites a great (and fittingly weird) joke with which to kick off the new season. In other words, Hulu had found a clever way to wrestle out of their association with and employment of an accused abuser. The scene is very funny, and the business decision was inventive and practical.

    With the bad, sometimes criminal behavior on the part of creatives increasingly coming to light, a moral quandary often gets kicked down the road to the audience: How are we supposed to appreciate art made from within toxic structures? This is not a novel question. It comes up in one way or another, even if it's just a twinge of guilt in the back of your mind, while watching the films of Roman Polanski and Woody Allen or enthusing about your favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's there while you're watching Better Things despite the Louis C.K. connection, or when an old Cosby Show clip gets recommended to you on YouTube, or when you see the Miramax logo in front of a movie.

    Back in June, The Hollywood Reporter published an article about the allegations of a toxic workplace made against Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider on the set of The Other Two. This report — along with the news that the show would be ending after three seasons — came just one day before the now-series finale streamed on Max. Fans of the show were hit all at once with the sad news that the show they loved was ending and the troubling news that the show they loved was a source of pain for some of the people who worked on it. The finale itself ended with a poignant story of Cary Dubek (Drew Tarver) walking temporarily away from the toxic fame-seeking that had warped him and towards a healthier relationship with the queer community. How was this scene supposed to have the same impact it might have before we'd all read about how that same kind of toxicity was a part of the show's creative process?

    The exposé about The Other Two came just weeks after Vanity Fair published an excerpt from Maureen Ryan's book Burn It Down that focused on the behind-the-scenes behavior at Lost. Ryan's meticulous research and interviews with people who worked on the show uncovered a toxic, racist, sexist, vindictive workplace culture, a rot that began at the top with showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.

    These are not isolated incidents — they’re part of an institutional problem within Hollywood, and the way power structures protect and often value the most problematic people. This is a systemic problem that requires systemic solutions — solutions that will happen in rooms and on sets that are far away from the audiences who ultimately will consume the product. But we in the audience read these stories. We exist in the world. We can't un-know what we know.

    In the case of Solar Opposites, it may be helpful to take a step back. Roiland co-created the show and voiced the main character, but you'll notice his name only appears in the writing credits of one episode, the series premiere. Mike McMahan has writing credit on five episodes, plus the Christmas special. The rest of the show's 38 episodes are credited to different writers, different directors, all of whom have a hand in making Solar Opposites the strange, funny, and surprisingly expansive show that it is. Dan Stevens joins a voice cast that includes Mary Mack, Sean Giambrone, Christina Hendricks, Sutton Foster, and Kieran Culkin. In the Hollywood Reporter piece on the Roiland accusations, many staffers on Solar Opposites and Rick & Morty said that Roiland hadn't set foot in the offices or writers' rooms for a very long time, and that he'd record his voice work from his home, taking no direction.

    Not every TV show with an abusive creative will be so easily (or literally in Roiland's case) separated from the source of its problem. And even that approach isn't as cut-and-dried a solution as it seems to be: Middleditch remains in the cast, and he was accused of sexual harassment at an L.A. goth club back in 2021 (there have since been no updates to these allegations).

    For audiences, it's not about willfully ignoring these facts. It's about being able to hold multiple truths about a show or a movie in your head at the same time: “This is work that's brought me joy and entertainment and has moved me in a genuine way. It's also work made by people who deserve to be able to do that work free of toxicity or predation.” One doesn't negate the other. Dan Stevens' tremendously funny performance doesn't absolve Justin Roiland of anything. We should neither want nor expect it to.

    Solar Opposites' Season 4 is available to stream on Hulu. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Solar Opposites, Hulu, Rick and Morty, Justin Roiland, Mike McMahan