Just in time for Thanksgiving weekend binge-watching arrives the Hulu series “Future Man,” ready to inject some humor from the school of Judd Apatow into a concept that honors “Back to the Future” without merely repeating it. In fact, in the episodes available to press, the series recognizes other sci-fi classics, including “Ender’s Game,” “The Terminator,” “The Last Starfighter” to “Minority Report,” but has larger creative aspirations than winking nostalgia. “Future Man” is a special treat for genre geeks, especially those hungry for original riffs on their favorite stories.
“Future Man” takes place in 2017, when a janitor for a biochemical company named Dan Futturman (get it?) becomes the first person to beat a violent, impossible sci-fi action game, based around the apocalypse of the future human race. He soon finds out that the game is a simulator made in the future, created to scope out talent from 2017 who might be able to save the world decades later, like a dorky “Terminator.” When two deadly serious soldiers from decades later named Wolf and Tiger arrive in 2017, they have no idea of Dan’s true inexperience at a lot of things, never mind saving the world.
Their main mission, at least originally, is to stop a head biochemical engineer (Keith David) from accidentally starting the Biotic race while searching for a cure for his herpes. It sends Dan, Tiger and Wolf back to the late ‘60s to a party with hopes of stopping him from getting the STD, and in part, saving humanity. It’s that high stakes, low-brow narrative value that makes “Future Man” special and often wonderful, while taking viewers on its speedy, unpredictable ride. That “Future Man” also gives the legendary character actor Keith David one of his most memorable roles of all time is testament to how "Future Man" is a can’t-miss enterprise.
The lead actors of the series boast unique charisma as well. Josh Hutcherson is in his element as Dan, able to play ball with the endearing man-child aspects of his character, like when he’s introduced to his sidekicks from the future when they catch him masturbating. At the same time, he sells the awe of the time-traveling saga as he becomes its accidental hero, surprised as much as we are about what the hell is happening. And there’s excellent dry, loud humor to be found from Eliza Coupe and Derek Wilson as Tiger and Wolf, respectively, as their alien nature to traditions of the 1960s or 2010s make for original fish-out-of-water jokes. Coupe gets a huge laugh, for example, when she sees a baby for the first time.
This is the type of series that defines "compulsively watchable," partly thanks to its full cinematic look. While the show is strong with its irreverent sense of humor, "Future Man" certainly doesn’t slouch with its action scenes, which boast an unusual clarity in editing and framing when characters fight hand-to-hand and often for a couple minutes. It’s that type of dedication that makes "Future Man" even more of the real deal, and better than most recent projects of similar genre aspirations. The first two episodes especially, directed by Rogen and Goldberg, boast some of their best work yet as filmmakers, displaying ambition with what to do with a camera while staying on narrative target.
“Future Man” takes full advantage of the fun to be had with a time-jumping series. The small events that happen in the ‘60s directly affect modern times, and it leads to numerous plot threads of uncertain ends. All the same, as the goofy heroes have their simple mission of stopping the creation of the Biotics, it’s just the changing yet crucial question of who is responsible and how. “Future Man” in turn creates a full world with reoccurring characters and shifting narrative possibilities, across decades. Everything feels meticulously, lovingly plotted by the show’s creators, but as it’s happening it leads to numerous surprises and big laughs. “Future Man” is what happens when giddy, geeky and inspired storytelling is allowed to go full throttle.