Hulu’s Future Man is the story of Josh Futterman (Josh Hutcherson), an aimless janitor who spends his nights playing a video game called Biotic Wars. When he becomes the first player ever to beat the game, its protagonists, Tiger (Eliza Coupe) and Wolf (Derek Wilson), suddenly materialize in the flesh. It turns out the game was a test, and they’ve traveled from the dystopian world of 2162 to find “Future Man,” the savior prophesied to put an end to the actual Biotic Wars. What ensues is an absurd yet surprisingly heartwarming journey across time that twists the conventions of time travel stories to hilarious extremes.
With Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg executive producing and directing, it’s no surprise that the show leans toward the vulgar, more dude-oriented end of the comedy spectrum. Future Man is the perfect mix of science fiction and dick jokes. If those are your thing (they’re certainly mine), this is the show for you. And though the humor is crass, it’s not stupid. Sex, farts, and slapstick all feel right at home with the tone of the series, and within the larger sci-fi world creators Kyle Hunter, Howard Overman, and Ariel Shaffir have established.
Every ounce of Future Man is rooted in classic science fiction, drawing from some of the most famous cinematic time travel stories, like Back to the Future, The Last Starfighter and Terminator. Future Man doesn’t hesitate to name drop its influences. One particularly memorable episode mercilessly mocks eccentric director James Cameron, all while acknowledging how important his work is to the story Future Man is telling. The creators’ love for these kinds of stories shines through in every episode.
Future Man is surprising tightly plotted and consistent, both narratively and comedically. Simple gags return unexpectedly in pitch perfect callbacks, and jokes that could easily be one-offs crop up as significant plot points. I certainly didn’t expect the random police officer from the second episode to become a season-long antagonist and great running gag. Almost nothing is said or done in Future Man without a thought towards how it’s funny in the larger context of the show.
Anything the characters do that might reasonably affect time is touched upon, deftly closing all of the potential plot holes that time travel stories tend to leave open. At one point, Josh draws a diagram to illustrate the series’ multiple timelines. I have to imagine Hunter, Overman, and Shaffir kept that same diagram on a whiteboard in their writer’s room.
But rather than feeling beholden to its time travel premise, the show takes full advantage of it. It leans into the idea of a dystopian future to establish its own comedic language that’s constantly revisited and expanded upon. For Tiger and Wolf, mouths are “ratholes,” and the idea of touching them together in a kiss is repugnant. But sex? That’s just “charging up,” nothing intimate or romantic about it. In the future, it seems that the only familiar traits of humanity that have managed to survive are our most hilariously vulgar.
The show’s central comedic through-lines are Tiger and Wolf’s fish-out-of-water fascination (and/or disgust with) the world of the past, and their hyper-serious attitudes toward the mundane. The absurd complications that can result from time travel are great comedic fodder as well. Wolf boils it down pretty succinctly: “Time travel’s a real mindfuck.”
Nearly every time travel trope you could think of is perverted into hilarity. The key to saving the future, for example: stopping a scientist from creating the cure for Herpes. And it’s not just the future that’s played for laughs. Every time period the show visits is rife with comedic potential. A trip to the 80s, for example, is complete with every facet of films from the era: sunglasses at night, a rad beach party, and even a homoerotic volleyball montage a la Top Gun.
Not to be discounted are the importance of video games and gaming culture to Future Man. The Biotic Wars game kicks the whole thing off, and is the catalyst that brings everything full circle at season’s end. Josh hangs out at the local game store where his friends work, and approaches everything with a gamer’s sensibility. Tiger and Wolf even call out the names of their attacks mid-fight, like Street Fighter’s Ryu yelling “Hadouken!”
Josh Hutcherson was an inspired choice for the show’s lead. Josh Futterman’s distinct averageness is even funnier in light of Hunger Games’ alum Hutcherson’s sci-fi pedigree. I was skeptical at first that movie star Hutcherson could pull off the role of down-on-his-luck nerd, but he more than proved me wrong. He nails both the comedic and dramatic moments, and is believable as both slacker and hero.
Eliza Coupe has perfected the role of the no-nonsense ball buster, with her trademark sarcastic quips and a glare that says “really dude?” As Tiger, her ceaseless taunting, dry delivery, and cold demeanor establish her as both hilarious and as a badass, and she has the action star chops to back it up. When it comes time to show cracks in Tiger’s gruff exterior, Coupe sticks the landing, getting in touch with her buried emotions.
The breakout star of the show has got to be Derek Wilson as Wolf. At first Wolf seems like he might just be a side character — a thick-skulled, tough-as-nails warrior who plays the straight man to the already super-straight Tiger. Wilson quickly smashes that expectation, taking Wolf in the most insane directions possible. As Wolf marvels at the time periods he visits and falls in love with the luxuries of the past, what could have been a forgettable, one-note character quickly becomes the show’s best. Wolf brings the same intensity to having a good time as he would to fighting in a warzone. Watching him learn the intricacies of the drug trade, become a master chef, and transform into the coolest guy to ever grace the 80s are some of the funniest parts of the season.
The chemistry between the main cast is apparent in their comedic timing and the warmth of their relationships. By season’s end, Josh, Tiger, and Wolf come together as a team, with each character feeling human and fully-formed. Great performances from Hutcherson, Coupe, and Wilson bring heart to a show that could otherwise have felt like empty laughs.
Future Man was the first Hulu original I watched after signing up for the service. I can say with confidence that it’s more than worth the price for Future Man alone. Hulu’s offerings are somewhat modest at the moment, but with the quality of shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Runaways, I can easily see them coming to rival Netflix in original content sooner rather than later. If it’s all as good as Future Man, my subscription will stay on auto-renew.