Indie Sci-Fi Comedy Solo Needs Some Time to Grow

Not a lot of people watched the ABC series Defying Gravity last year, because apparently America wasn’t ready for a Grey’s Anatomy-esque dramedy that took place in space. The new sci-fi web series Solo, created by Jonathan Nail, reminds me of Gravity at times. But fortunately, Solo is a lot more comedy than drama — and that speaks well for its chances.

While the premise of Solo seems simple, upon viewing it’s surprisingly complicated. Hapless Scott (Nail) has been shot into space on a three-year mission to Mars that’s also being filmed as a reality series (a reality series with only one character? Okay, I’ll go with it). However, when the show is canceled, that isn’t the end of the story for Scott or the people left behind on Earth — because Scott’s still stuck in space.

Despite the logline’s claim that Solo is “set in space,” a surprising amount of Solo takes place on Earth, showing how Scott’s plight affects his wife Rebecca (The Guild‘s Michele Boyd) as well as the show’s producer and staff, who haven’t given up on finding a home for their reality series post-cancellation. The result is storytelling that comes off as a little scattered, although Episode 3 (which premieres July 20) is an exception to that rule, focusing entirely on Scott coming to terms with his fate. As a result, it’s the most centered of the series so far.

As a performer, Nail (who’s recognizable from guest appearances on Mad Men and Criminal Minds, among other TV series) is really entertaining and clearly capable of carrying the series on his own, though he’s at his best during more genuine moments and not so much at his best when playing goofy or dumb, efforts which come off feeling forced. The other characters are well-drawn and the actors fully engaged — I especially enjoyed Melissa Dalton and Amol Shah as hapless production assistants on the now-canceled show. Production values are solid, especially given the many visual effects and futuristic setting.

However, the big problem with Solo is that it never really settles on a tone. Sometimes the comedy is broad and goofy, sometimes it’s decidedly dark and human, and sometimes it doesn’t really know what it wants to do. It’s the sort of result that comes when a show is searching for the right note to strike, and hasn’t found it yet.

In the TV world, when given the chance to grow, uncertain beginnings like that have lead to blockbuster series like Seinfeld and Sex and the City, both of which took a while to find their voices. In Solo‘s case, though, only three episodes have been produced so far, and Nail and his team are currently looking for funding for more. Fingers crossed for them, because with more opportunity to grow, Solo could become a real contender.

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