'Future Man' leads with crass charm and promise
From Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion to Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” the trends and styles of the ’80s are back in full-force, and Hulu’s “Future Man” is no exception. From the mind of Seth Rogen, the producer that brought you classics like “Superbad” and “Sausage Party,” comes a comedy web series about a young janitor Josh Futturman (Josh Hutcherson, “The Hunger Games”) and video games. Josh is a typical Rogen hero: An immature, blue-collar virgin with little ambition for life, but an obsession for something completely trivial. In Josh’s case, it’s an unbeatable video game called "Biotic Wars."
You may be thinking “well, where does the ’80s stuff come in?” Well, that is the magic of “Future Man.” In the same way that “Stranger Things” subtly integrates various sci-fi references from the decade, “Future Man” does the same with time-travel and action adventure flicks. In the series premiere, the audience learns that Josh has been attempting to beat "Biotic Wars" for years. In the time that he is not busy cleaning up the bathrooms of a herpes research laboratory (yes, you read that right), Josh spends all his time taking a crack at level 83. He finally beats the video game, and, in case you had forgotten this was a work of Rogen’s, promptly decides to masturbate to a poster of the female lead character.
Most distressingly, Josh reaches orgasm as the two leads of the game, Tiger (Eliza Coupe, “Happy Endings) and Wolf (Derek Wilson, “Preacher”), begin the dramatic tension that drives the show forward. Tiger and Wolf state that the dystopian world of Biotic Wars is real, and Josh’s victory makes him the champion that will assist them in preventing the crisis that leads to the dystopia in the game. The trio is warped back in time, to July 20th, 1969, the date where it all started.
While they don’t necessarily warp back to the ’80s, “Future Man” does borrow a good deal from the 1985 classic “Back to the Future.” There’s a scientist (although this time he’s evil), a youthful figure thrown into the disarray of the past, and a struggle to prevent a fateful error. The presence of Tiger and Wolf, however, spin the formula on its head, adding some much-needed comic relief in their inability to understand the world of a non-dystopia.
Multiple other pop-culture references, like a campy and homoerotic “Top Gun” volleyball scene, appear later in the series which divvies up the allusion per episode ratio to something manageable. In addition, Rogen and company emphasize a few of the tropes, leaning into and almost acknowledging the queerness of the volleyball scene, in one case, and mixing up tropes in others. Rapper Awkwafina and comic Paul Scheer (“The League”) are a comedic force as the video game clerks who sell Josh another joystick after he breaks his. It’s an interesting, quirky chemistry that works.
All in all, the series premiere of “Future Man” is promising. Hutcherson returns after a few years out of the limelight of “The Hunger Games” to a series that ostensibly lampoons dystopia. If you’ve missed that big-chinned kid, then you will be happy to see Hutcherson comfortable and competent as a character that ejaculates on Wolf’s pants in the opening scenes. His talents, along with those of Coupe and Wilson, are not lost on the basest jokes — even Tiger’s heavy-handed use of “welcome to the resistance.” Pull up a chair and join for yourself.