Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg bring Future Man to Hulu, turning the genre mash-up into a funny, ultra-crude time-travel spoof.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the pair behind movies like Superbad, Pineapple Express, and This Is The End have been shepherding a similarly puerile sensibility to television with AMC’s Preacher and the upcoming adaptation of The Boys, but the pair may have reached new heights with Hulu’s ultra-crude time-travel spoof Future Man. The series, created by Sausage Party writers Ariel Shaffir and Kyle Hunter, is an often funny hodgepodge of pop culture influences ranging from Back to the Future to Terminator 2 to the chainsaw-gun ultra-violence of Gears of War, all of which service the show’s time-travel narrative and its main character’s ongoing obsession with every major piece of genre work seen in film, television, and video games over the last 35-some-odd years.
The show stars The Hunger Games‘ Josh Hutcherson as Josh Futterman, a listless twenty-something whose life revolves around work as a janitor at a medical research facility run by Keith David that’s researching a cure for herpes and playing Biotic Wars, his favorite video game that, due to its extreme difficulty, has achieved a sort of legendary pop cultural status of its own. Josh’s interest in the game is in part because of its difficulty, but also because of his affection for Tiger (Eliza Coupe), one of its primary protagonists who, alongside Wolf (Derek Wilson), guide the player through the task of saving a post-apocalyptic future. In the vein of The Last Starfighter – which is directly referenced in the first episode – the real Tiger and Wolf recruit Josh to aid in saving mankind from the evil biotics, an inadvertent side effect of the herpes cure cooked up by David’s scientist character.
If turning a herpes cure into the catalyst for a James Cameron-level apocalyptic scenario is any indication, you immediately get a sense of what kind of vulgar, dude-bro comedy Future Man is aiming to be, and, to its credit, is mostly successful at from the start. The series premiere is an unapologetically crude comedy whose story truly begins when Josh beats Biotic Wars and his moment of celebratory self-pleasure is interrupted by Wolf and Tiger suddenly materializing in his room, resulting in the former being struck by… well, you know, and crying out “I’m hit!” It’s unsophisticated and gross but Wilson’s line delivery is such a pitch-perfect spoof of all the blandly similar, jacked-up video game avatars that you can’t help but laugh.
As it turns out, Tiger and Wolf aren’t just in Josh’s timeline to save their future; in the series’ early going they’re Future Man‘s saving grace, too. Both Coupe and Wilson excel at making their characters’ Terminator-like fish-out-of-water experience in the present day into the show’s strongest characterization and best source of comedy. Wilson routinely turns Wolf’s already over-the-top machismo up to eleven, thereby turning himself into the joke, which helps counterbalance the abundance of coarse bodily fluid humor that is the show’s go-to source of yucks. Meanwhile, Coupe plays an amped up version of the always slightly annoyed, waiting-to-be-disappointed-in-everyone character she exceled at on Happy Endings and again in Hulu’s Casual. This time, though, the character is given a chance to work out her frustrations at those around her by screaming, “kill them all!” before violently engaging a scrum of bikers.
But the series aims to make the future warriors more than a thin spoof on violence-prone video game avatars by playing up their unaffected amazement at the past’s obliviousness of its dark future as well as the prevalence of things that simply no longer exist. For Wolf, that means a bowl of pickles (or “green logs”) in an all-night diner, and for Tiger it’s setting her sights on an infant for the first time, a moment that results in an uncomfortably funny encounter with a young mother that forces Josh to intervene and explain acceptable codes of conduct in a world not yet besieged by walking herpes monsters.
That is more or less Josh’s role in the series’ early going: guiding Tiger and Wolf through social norms and attempting to prove his worth after mistakenly being saddled with the moniker of the “chosen one”. The character feels perfunctory for the most part; a proxy for the audience that also serves as an outlet for some of the series’ hit-or-miss jokes. Still, those that land are legitimately laugh-out-loud moments, like when Josh is mistaken for an intruder by past versions of his grandparents and father and violently assaulted until Tiger and Wolf intervene, so as to not have to watch while the would-be savior of mankind is killed by his own family.
As much as Future Man is indebted to the films that it’s spoofing, in the first seven episodes sent to critics, the series does make a legitimate attempt to do more with its central time-travel narrative than remind everyone of what great movies Back to the Future and The Terminator are. Despite a prolonged sequence that seems to exist solely to parody Michael J. Fox’s ‘Johnny B Goode’ guitar solo and take a thin stab at pointing out the appropriation contained therein, moments that play with the paradox of messing with the time stream have a lasting ripple effect on Josh’s once-normal life that are rarely for the better. That allows the series to continually alter characters like Josh’s overly supportive parents played by Ed Begley Jr. and the late Glenne Headley, as well as Man Seeking Woman‘s Britt Lower, Haley Joel Osment, and the aforementioned Keith David. These tiny ripples in what would be Josh’s present day give Future Man more to do (or undo) than continually work toward a fixed endpoint of preventing the apocalypse, which would otherwise become an exercise in tedium.
Despite an over reliance on gross, puerile humor (a particular brand of which that can be so relentlessly unfunny it made Sausage Party one of the only movies I’ve ever walked out of the theater from), Future Man tempers its baser instincts with moments that either prompt genuine laughs or, on occasion, result in unexpected sincerity. The series will likely prove divisive among viewers who are not looking to buy into the dude-centric humor, but for those looking for a comedy that revels in taking vulgarity to new heights, Future Man will likely be worth a watch.
Future Man season 1 is streaming in its entirety on Hulu.
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