Ahead of Comedy Central Australia’s premiere of sci-fi comedy series Future Man, which aired in late 2017 on US network Hulu, we were given the opportunity to review to the first three episodes. And, oh boy, it’s… not good.
Written by Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir (Sausage Party), and produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the series follows underachieving janitor Josh Futturman (Josh Hutcherson), who lives at home with his parents (Ed Begley Jr and Glenne Headly) and works shifts at a local science lab run by Dr Kronish (Keith David). In plays video games in his spare time and battles the feeling he was destined for greater things. One day, Josh completes a seemingly unbeatable game, Biotic Wars, which turns out to a recruiting tool for time travellers engaged in a future war, much like the plot of The Last Starfighter, as the show is keen to point out. Two soldiers from the future, Tiger (Eliza Coupe) and Wolf (Derek Wilson), travel to the present day to enlist Josh and prevent the downfall of humanity.
Now if that sounds like it might be a little derivative, then that’s a generous train of thought. Future Man takes Ready Player One’s line of ‘I-remember-that-thing’ nostalgia to infinite lengths, pitches in some of Rogen’s patented frat-bro comedy and delivers a show so devastatingly puerile and bereft of originality that it’s like a creative black hole – drawing a talented cast over its event horizon to leave nothing but a humourless void.
Future Man references everything from Back to the Future to The Terminator to The Last Starfighter, and not only steals their ideas, but points it out at every opportunity, in case the audience is too dumb to catch them. If Ready Player One instigated this line of over-referential nostalgia, then let Future Man be the death of it, because if this is the template that modern sci-fi is going to follow – conceitedly harking back to better ideas from a better time – then we’re in for a rough ride.
Future Man was in trouble right from the outset. Alarm bells sound with some crass, misfiring jokes about Super Mario Bros’ dicks, Ms Pac Man and herpes. One assumes the writers were aiming for edgy, gross-out comedy, but lift out the dick jokes and Future Man is so achingly safe, the only thing missing is canned laughter.
In the context of a movie like Sausage Party, Hunter and Shaffir’s gross-out humour is well suited. If one gag misses the mark there’s another ten to immediately follow. But in the context of trying to tell a serialised story there’s nowhere to hide when the jokes go bad. Even if you have a high tolerance for the comedy, the story is still a potpourri of ideas from a bunch of movies you’d be better off watching than this. The irony is not lost on a show called Future Man, comprised entirely of ideas from the past.
At least the performances are fine. Josh Hutcherson and Eliza Coupe do well as Josh and Tiger. Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense), Glenne Headly (in one of her final roles) and the mighty Keith David (The Thing, They Live) are always good value, but all are hampered by the material.
The gaming is credibly represented, avoiding the usual pitfalls and showing us a realistic depiction of gameplay. But even the gaming can’t resist the over-referencing that seeps into every aspect of Future Man. In this instance we have a very strong similarity to Mass Effect, even going so far as to lift terminology (biotics) and actors (Keith David) from Bioware’s exceptional series.
It’s possible Future Man picks up after episode three, and there are certainly many great series’ with problematic beginnings, but on this evidence it seems highly unlikely. The concept of an original thought is as alien to Future Man as crafting a good joke. When all is said and done, this is cynicism in serial form, and it feels like a smug, sneaky cash-in.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★☆☆☆☆
‘Future Man’ will premiere Wednesday June 13 at 8:30pm on The Comedy Channel.