'Future Man': How Did We Miss This Can't-miss Show?

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Eliza Coupe and Derek Wilson in Future Man (2017).
Eliza Coupe and Derek Wilson in Future Man (2017).Credit: Brandon Hickman / Hulu

One morning last week, I woke up and discovered that I had a brother whose existence I wasn’t aware of. A twin, if you please. His name is Jon-K (short for Kraus), and he’s a house and techno deejay  from Manchester who shares my tastes – flirting between the danceable and the eccentric – and does his thing at parties of a similar character to mine. He is even a fan of the local United soccer club. As I consider myself knowledgeable about electronic music and the club culture, you’d think I’d have known about a highly regarded figure like Jon-K – in his hometown he’s considered the deejay nonpareil, admired by every deejay worthy of the name who’s emerged from Manchester in the past 15 years – but for a long time he somehow slipped under my radar.

I was delighted to find out about Jon-K through a good friend, who unreasonably claimed that she’d pleaded with me for some time to listen to him – to my unrelenting refusal. My delight was tinged with regret at the wasted years in which I’d ignored him. After all, I could have derived pure pleasure from his work, gained inspiration, been exposed to terrific music and enriched my spiritual and professional life. On top of that, I felt disgusted with myself, because the only reason for the blunder was the illusion that my means of cultural nourishment supplied all my needs. That I’m supposedly enough of an authority in the field that nothing will get by me. And that’s a slice of arrogant bullshit, certainly at a time of programming inflation like the present.

A similar and equally embarrassing story happened three weeks ago with a television series a friend urged me to watch: “Future Man,” which he declared was his favorite series of 2017, and which I’d never heard of. That seemed totally off the wall to me. Every week I dig through all the relevant websites, blogs and feeds with the aim of finding series that depart from the routine (but exciting) inventory of HBO, Netflix, Showtime, FX, Amazon, BBC and the others, so how could I have missed it? Or maybe it just wasn’t as good as my friend claimed and it had slipped by me with good reason?

Well, the series is really good. And not only is it really good, but the fact that the first two episodes are produced and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg only ramped up the level of the snafu. If I’d missed a series by the people responsible for “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express,” those who brought the wonderful comic book series “Preacher” to the screen – and whose work I’d followed piously for the past decade-plus – then I must be doing something wrong.

But that’s not really what’s important. Let’s concentrate on “Future Man,” created for Hulu by Howard Overman (“Dirk Gently”), Ariel Shaffir and Kyle Hunter (the latter two co-wrote “Sausage Party”). This is a series that all sci-fi fans – but not only them – should watch. The story, without over-spoilering things, follows Josh Futturman (played by Josh Hutcherson, from “The Hunger Games”), a janitor in a pharmaceuticals company, a harmless loser and a video games geek. Futturman discovers that his favorite game, “Biotic Wars,” is actually a test through which an underground movement from an apocalyptic future is looking for the person who will save the Earth from a technocratic dictatorship. Two fighters from the 22nd century, Wolf (Derek Wilson) and Tiger (Eliza Coupe), land in Futturman’s apartment and recruit him to be their savior, travel with them in time and redeem the bleak, black future.

Stylized but not oppressive

That point of departure is pretty much all you need to know, because “Future Man” goes into high gear early on. You’ll do well to experience it for yourself, not least because it’s a series of “how” no less than “what” and “about what.” It’s simultaneously a parody of all the popular science fiction works of the past 40 years, but also the thing itself. It’s an homage to “The Terminator” (in addition to a whole episode devoted to James Cameron) and “Back to the Future,” along with ardent and gut-splittingly funny references – I actually laughed to the point of tears – to “Top Gun,” “Roots” and “Ocean’s Eleven.” Yet, it’s dripping with originality. 

Each point in time that’s reached by Josh, Wolf and Tiger is the subject of a scintillating parody about its cinematic representation, be it racial segregation in the 1950s, the hollowness of the 1980s or the here and now and the future. Episode 11 – and I’m absolutely holding myself back to avoid inserting some of its superb jokes here – is the wittiest, most malicious, most precise and most sidesplitting riff I’ve encountered on the current star chefs cult. And that’s even before we get to the full-male-nudity duel in Episode 12.

In fact, the comic writing on “Future Man” sets standards of its own. The series contains a vast quantity of jokes from a range of humoristic genres – verbal, physical, contextual, parodic, satiric – and not a line was written to fill the space and advance the plot. Everything is stylized without being oppressive and over-smart – the gaps between the moment from which each character arrives and the parallel time axes that are created in the wake of the different journeys are key elements. A little like “Rick and Morty,” only with real people. 

The direction and the acting also reflect a genuine feel for comedy. Hutcherson draws on his misery from “The Hunger Games” and takes it a step up; Tiger fulfills the zeitgeist of a female action figure with killer instincts and a sensitive psyche. Ed Begley, Jr. and Glenne Headly (who died in June last year, halfway through filming the series) are marvelous as Josh’s hippy parents. Wolf is simply the best supporting character on television, arousing identification with the depths of emotionality in which he’s immersed and leaving viewers breathless with his comic performance. The episodes that focus on him in the 1980s are a fantasy of all 1980s children everywhere, as much as they also mock that plastic decade. Just two weeks ago I was frustrated by the lack of humor in the German series “Dark,” which visits similar thematic territories. “Future Man” is exactly the healing medicine I needed – and probably you, too.