Soulmates review: Patchy series leaves you craving more of some characters, and less of others

Perhaps inevitably with an anthology, the series overall – on the basis of the first three episodes at least – is uneven

Ed Cumming@EdCumming
Monday 08 February 2021 13:01
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Sarah Snook and Kingsley Ben-Adir in Soulmates
Sarah Snook and Kingsley Ben-Adir in Soulmates

Soulmates is a sci-fi anthology about a kind of futuristic super-Tinder, where the discovery of the “soul particle” has led to a dating service, rather lamely called Soul Connex, that finds your soulmate based on science. It’s been popular. The how’s and why’s of this miraculous kit are brushed over in the first moments. Certain questions are left unanswered, such as why everyone’s soulmate appears to be a good-looking English-speaking professional rather than an Indian goatherd or Mongolian construction worker, which presumably is just as likely.

That’s by the by. Instead, these six episodes explore the ramifications of the new world on traditional relationships. The first episode, “Watershed”, stars Sarah Snook – Shiv Roy from Succession – as Nikki, who married her husband Franklin (Kingsley Ben-Adir) in the old-fashioned way. They were college sweethearts, who find themselves, new parents, in a world awash with sickeningly blissful couples. One is her brother Peter (Darren Boyd, one of a few British actors in the series putting on American accents), who like many people in this new world has abandoned a perfectly good relationship in order to be with his chosen one. Another is her friend Jennifer (Dolly Wells), on the verge of leaving her husband for an Argentinian stranger.

“We have death, taxes and love,” says one character at a dinner party. “Inevitability sucks.”

Amid all these loved-up pairs, it’s only natural that Nikki and Franklin start to question their relationship. Did they get married too young? Is someone better out there? Does anything have to be inevitable? Feeling increasingly distant from her husband, Nikki grapples with whether to take “the test”, as it’s known. Knowing that everyone always thinks the grass is greener doesn’t make that field across the river look any less tempting. Although there are similarities between the two, Nikki is a softer, less brittle figure than Shiv, which lets Snook show her range. She has the knack of making all her characters seem very intelligent – I think it's something to do with the eyes – so even their poor decisions seem to be the result of a plausible thought process. “Is this better?” One of the characters asks towards the end. No, is the obvious answer. Ignorance is bliss, especially when it comes to sex.

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Soulmates is co-written by Brett Goldstein and Will Bridges, the latter of whom won an Emmy for “USS Callister”, one of the truly great episodes of Black Mirror. The influence of Charlie Brooker’s blockbuster is clear, especially in the depressing aren’t-phones-bad near-future aesthetic and reliance on twist endings. In its better moments, like the first episode, Soulmates is a more intimate work, which gives space to emotions and people instead of technology. But perhaps inevitably with an anthology, the series overall – on the basis of the first three episodes at least – is patchy. You are left wishing for more of some characters, like Nikki, and rather less of others. In dystopian sci-fi, as in love, first impressions aren’t everything. Some can grow, others seem better on paper than in the flesh.

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