Saturday, November 18, 2017

REVIEW: 'Future Man' - Josh is Recruited to the Resistance from a Future Dystopia in 'Pilot'

Hulu's Future Man - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Josh Futturman feels stuck in his dead-end job as a janitor so all he really does is play Biotic Wars, an unbeatable video game the rest of the world has given up on. But when Josh beats the game, mysterious visitors from the future appear: the world is in danger, and Josh is the only one who can save it.

Time travel as a storytelling genre has really been popular for a long time. In fact, it has been having a revival on television over the past few years. Some shows have been successful with the conceit - like Syfy's 12 Monkeys or NBC's Timeless. Some can be really fun with it - like The CW's Legends of Tomorrow. And then others can just be very grim and uninspired - like FOX's Making History or ABC's Time After Time. It's a genre that has many different reference points. It's not just television. Movies have been telling stories about time travel for awhile as well - with the most successful probably being the Back to the Future franchise. All of this makes it clear right away that Hulu's Future Man really isn't doing anything new in this particular genre. But in this premiere, it at least has fun and amusing execution while still offering that familiar Seth Rogen humor. That will help this show stand out in this genre. It can be much more graphic and profane than most of these stories typically are even while using the other stories as reference points in this narrative. The lead character even describes the main narrative of the season as The Last Starfighter and Quantum Leap. So, the creative team is aware of the history of the genre and makes sure that the characters and audience understand it as well. It could be problematic for characters to talk about the specific references that the storytelling is making. But with the right execution, it can be a lot of fun too. This is a show inspired by the genre while still trying to form its own unique edge on the concept as well.

Of course, this first episode doesn't really do a whole lot to distinguish Future Man from the other time travel shows. Yes, it has jokes about masturbation. The overall story revolves around a cure being found for herpes. It's a show centered around those immature and graphic sensibilities. That's a style that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have perfected in many ways. Preacher ultimately became too angsty and dire but the direction and the unique tone was quickly established by Rogen and Goldberg to great success. They really have emerged as interesting directors. They bring that unique style to this first episode in making sure the various time periods stand out in really blatant and in-your-face ways. The present day is very average and mundane. The world of The Biotic Wars is very much full of depressing blues that can define action stories. And then, the world of the 1960s is erratic and full of oranges and unexpected color schemes. It's the show trying to throw the rules out the window without going full-tilt into the understood sensibilities of a particular time frame. When the characters go back to 1969, it's not with any subtlety whatsoever. They stand out in this world. That's on purpose as well. So, the direction is making sure that these new locations stand out as well because they are different from the established norm and show this strange, new world the characters have entered even though history has well-documented many of the life events that the show is playing into. It's a fascinating way to depict this ongoing story.

And yet, Josh Hutcherson is playing Josh Futturman in a very familiar way. That's just a part of the character design. It's an archetypal character. Josh is just an average guy who doesn't seem to be doing anything in his life. He's completely unassuming. The only thing that defines him and gives him joy in his existence is escaping into the world of a seemingly unbeatable video game. And then, his world is completely turned upside down when the events of the game become real and he's the only person who can save the human race from destruction. This average guy is about to become the savior that the entire world needs. Again, it's a familiar narrative. The show plays into it by really kicking Josh down over and over again. He doesn't want to believe that this is actually happening. He doesn't accept time travel. And yes, the fight scenes are a little over-the-top and silly. But they do such a strong job in really kicking this premise into Josh. He doesn't believe it until his grandmother is beating him up in 1969. Of course, the show runs into the problem of being too cliche with characters who are nothing more than unflattering caricatures. This premiere doesn't do a great job at respecting the gaming community. It once again imagines someone who loves video games who happens to be a loser still living in his parents' basement and who is constantly masturbating to fantasies of the game. The show definitely plays into that aspect by having Josh ejaculating onto Wolf the moment these warriors from the future arrive. It's a part of the twisted joke in the story. But it also plays into some unfortunate cliches as well. It may ultimately subvert those. In this premiere, it doesn't in a way that is all that rewarding.

Of course, Hutcherson is believable in playing this earnest guy who aspires to more out of life but has no real direction either. He is supported by two overly loving parents who don't want him to ever leave the family home. His parents are thin characters as well who are only really brought to life by Glenne Headly and Ed Begley Jr. They appear only briefly but do a nice job in establishing what kind of parents Josh has and how he could be living this life. The true sense of the narrative comes once Tiger and Wolf emerge from the future to recruit Josh to their cause. Eliza Coupe and Derek Wilson are fine actors who really have some impressive moments in this opening episode. Josh fantasizes about being the hero of The Bionic Wars having no idea that it's all based in reality. He's completely unqualified for the mission that Tiger and Wolf need him for. They realize that as soon as they travel back to 1969. They were expecting this action hero who will be the savior they need. To them, video games are training tools to form the best soldiers. They have no understanding of the past and the way the world worked. They just have a vague outline for the events that would lead to their current dystopia. That's a fun way to approach things. Characters from the future oftentimes have an unfair advantage at knowing how certain events will play out. Josh is from 2017 and seems to have a better understanding of the timeline that Tiger and Wolf are targeting for this mission. That's what allows him to be useful in this story. He has awareness of time travel stories and knows what they need to do in order to complete this mission.

But still, Tiger and Wolf aren't subtle at all in their complete ignorance of fitting into the past. Josh knows right away that they need to blend into their surroundings in order to seem unassuming for the mission. Tiger and Wolf stand out as two soldiers from the future. Needing to blend in just forces Tiger and Wolf to get into a fight with a biker gang. That shows how skilled they are in battle. They have the physical skills that Josh doesn't have. Nor do they have the same moral compass as him. Josh has objections to killing people which basically makes Wolf not want to work with him at all. To these future soldiers, life is either kill or be killed. Those stakes aren't the same for Josh. He knows that killing is wrong. But he finds himself swept up into this story because he miraculously has inside information about the events that will lead to the world's destruction. He's just a lackluster janitor at a research facility in 2017. He's not the one who will make a difference in the world. But his employers are the ones whose research will ultimately create a cure for all diseases that will turn humanity into the biotics that Tiger and Wolf are fighting against. Josh just so happens to know that Dr. Kronish was inspired to become a scientist because he contracted herpes the night of the moon landing. That creates the mission for the immediate future. It proves that Josh has value and can be a part of this team despite being woefully ill-equipped to handle matters of life-or-death. It's an amusing setup that needs a bit more specificity in order to help the show truly stand out in the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Kyle Hunter & Ariel Shaffir and directed by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg.
  • Hulu has been experimenting with its release strategy for shows for awhile now. It's still mostly in the business of releasing on a weekly schedule. And yet, it's easy to understand why the streamer wanted to release all 13 episodes of Future Man at once. It's probably a series that plays better in the binge market then having to wait a week in between episodes. This way it's less likely for the audience to get hung up on any lackluster details.
  • There are so many recognizable faces in the supporting ranks of this show. Keith David plays the scientist at the center of this grand conspiracy. Haley Joel Osment and Britt Lower are additional scientists at the facility. Ron Funches plays a security guard. And Paul Scheer and Awkwafina are two fellow gamers who enjoy making fun of Josh.
  • Again, the association between gamers and people who masturbate in their parents' basements is unfortunate. And yet, it's a lot of fun to be in that conversation with Josh and his two friends at the game store as they talk about the video game characters they jerk to. It provides some truly twisted jokes about Ms. Pacman and Luigi.
  • And of course, the show can't resist a "69" joke when that's the year that Josh, Tiger and Wolf need to travel back to. At that moment, Josh thinks it's just an elaborate prank someone is playing on him where he believes he's about to have sex with the woman of his fantasies. Instead, it's actually real and he gets promptly beaten up by the family who has no idea who he is.
  • The rules of time travel are still being established here. And so, the show will need to explain whether or not Josh's family will remember the night of the moon landing when a stranger broke into their house and they had to fight him off. And then, will any of them remember that it looks just like Josh in the present day?
  • "Pilot" is dedicated to Glenne Headly, who died halfway through filming of this season. This is one of her final credits as an actress. It's so tragic because she was such a gifted performer. She was a great character actor who always brought something interesting to each role. She wasn't ultimately recast here either. So, I'm intrigued to see how the creative team has chosen to deal with this unfortunate news.

As noted in previous reviews from shows released all at once, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.