RECOMMENDED: "FUTURE MAN" ON HULU
"Future Man," Hulu's whiz-bang, very silly retro sci-fi parody series from producer-directors Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, is really two shows in one. Sadly, I liked one of the shows a whole lot better than the other.
On one level, "Future Man" is a very clever take on a familiar story, and serves as a platform for a lot of fun, insightful jokes about the nature of fandom. Josh Futterman (Josh Hutcherson of "The Hunger Games") is a stunted man-boy who still lives with his parents, works as a janitor and fixates almost exclusively on masturbation and video games. He's shocked to discover that one of those games he's been playing is actually a recruitment tool for soldiers in a bleak, post-apocalyptic future, where survivors are locked in an endless war against mutants known as Biotics. Two of these soldiers travel back to 2017, grab Josh and take him along on an adventure through time and space to help save humanity.
When it's focused on recreating and referencing classic '80s sci-fi and fantasy tropes, "Future Man" actually works surprisingly well. There's real thought put into the mythology of the Biotic Wars and the visual style, costumes, performances and effects all suggest the era without ripping off any one particular intellectual property. ("Back to the Future," "Terminator" and "The Last Starfighter" were clearly direct inspirations.)
As well, there's real charm in Josh's repeated ability to use his extensive, previously useless pop culture know-how to navigate different tight squeezes. I was reminded a bit of Justin Long's turn as the enthusiastic fanboy/expert from "Galaxy Quest." The game cast includes Derek Wilson and Eliza Coupe as future soldiers Wolf and Tiger, respectively, and Ed Begley Jr. and the late, great Glenne Headly show up as Josh's well-intentioned enabler parents.
But there's another side to "Future Man" as well. The show has an aggressively juvenile mean streak, almost like a bunch of junior high kids were brought in to do punch-up on the scripts. Violence and brutality are mined for laughs frequently, and the show seems to just find the idea of cruelty to strangers inherently funny. Occasionally, these gags will get a cheap shock value laugh, but this is no way to build a fictional universe in which you want people to invest real concern. These moments, particularly those involving Wolf and Tiger's personal bloodlust and complete lack of boundaries, make it hard to come around to liking them as characters.
Considering that the writers of "Future Man" are Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir, who previously collaborated on the script for the abysmal "Sausage Party" (also produced by Goldberg and Rogen), this is unsurprising, I suppose. At least they left out the crude racial stereotypes (mostly) this time.
Look, I'm not saying bathroom humor can never be funny, but if it's going to be constant, it needs to be VERY clever to avoid growing stale. Even Matt Stone and Trey Parker of "South Park" eventually moved their show into more cultural and political satire.
I'm recommending "Future Man" because so much of it is well done and smart, and I'd say I 75-80% enjoyed the episodes I watched. But it does feel like a show that doesn't quite know itself, or what it wants to be. Is this an ultimately sweet story about a guy who gets to live out his dream of being a hero? Or is this a passing diversion for middle schoolers who want to laugh at people yelling the word "cum"? No matter how much vaguely scientific future-tech they come up with, I'm not sure it can exist in both worlds at once.
Title: "Future Man"
Where to Watch: Hulu
Episodes: 13 (1 season)
Running time: 30 minutes each
Genre: Sci-fi comedy