It’s a familiar concept: a plucky hero—nay, a band of plucky heroes!—travels back in time to the distant past. To a time which also happens to be our present. They’ve arrived to inform us that an apocalypse is imminent, and the only way to prevent it is to stop someone from inadvertently creating an extinction level event. It’s the setup of many a science fiction story, and it’s also the entry point into Hulu’s Future Man, a new half-hour comedy from executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldman. So how does it differentiate itself from what came before while finding the comic value buried beneath the concept?
“Well, the fact that it all started with herpes might be a critical departure from the standard stories,” Eliz Coupe deadpans during our roundtable interview with the actress and her co-star Derek Wilson. Touché.
Indeed, Future Man acts as a genre-defying series. While it is entirely meant to be a comedy, its hook is that it is as amorphous as the appeal of time travel itself. Centered on a young slacker janitor named Josh Futterman (Josh Hutcherson), his modern day world is turned upside down when he is recruited by Coupe’s mononymous-named Tiger and Wilson’s Wolf. Due to his superior video game-playing skills, they’ll recruit Josh to help them prevent their hellish apocalypse by stopping the man responsible for accidentally causing a world-ending event—one derived from his attempts to cure herpes. Thus there will be time warps to the 1980s, 1970s, and the many time periods beyond.
“Yeah, I think the specific story elements are unique, but the look of it is also sort of recognizable,” Wilson considers. “[The future] is sort of dystopian and tragic, but we’re also doing a half-hour comedy, so we need something that’s sort of recognizable in a lot of ways. That’s why nostalgia is good for the show too. But yeah, the way the world gets there is certainly unique.”
Indeed, this can lead to moments as bizarre as that of a scene between castmates Haley Joel Osment and Hutcherson, as the former chases the latter around the set with a Samurai sword.
“I get a Samurai sword at one point, and if you get a Samurai sword, you’re messing with it all day, you can get a little carried around with it,” Osment laughs. But keeping that even keel might be the secret to Future Man’s genre-bending uniqueness.
“We had to remind ourselves, because you’re obviously changing directors all the time, because you’re keeping consistent with where the characters are living, you always have to remind yourselves that the stakes are absolutely real,” Hutcherson says. “We’re trying to save the world—it’s the apocalypse-preventing kind of thing—and trying to make sure you don’t get too much in the comedy role by keeping that on the right track. So I think it’s kind of reminding yourselves the stakes are absolutely real.” This includes traveling back to the 1980s while dressed as an MTV Moon Man award.
It’s also one of the appeals to Coupe, who was looking for a fresh project—preferably away from broadcast networks after appearing on several cult-appealing network sitcoms like Happy Endings and Scrubs.
Says Coupe, “I was telling everybody I wanted to do action, and I’ve always said I wanted to do action and comedy, and I’ve always wanted to do Marvel, and I’ve loved that stuff so much. So when I read this, I was like like, ‘Yes, this is perfect. It’s comedy, it’s crazy, but it’s grounded, her name’s Tiger, she beats the shit out of people, and she’s the leader of the resistance?’ Why would I not want to do that?”
It’s just one aspect of a series that has a creative desire to go out of this world. And with time travel, the appeal is always pushing it and going somewhere else altogether.
For instance, when star Hutcherson was asked where he’d like to see Future Man travel to in a potential second season, he suggests, “It’d be really fun to go to medieval times. Not like the restaurant-slash-show event. Or we could go to Medieval Times, the restaurant too.” When I suggest why not do both, he just chuckles with a shrug. Why not? Future Man can have it both ways, just like it can be a show about time traveling apocalypse survivors… and herpes prevention.
Future Man premieres on Hulu on Tuesday, Nov. 14.
Interview withFuture Man showrunner, Ben Karlin, on the November Sci Fi Fidelity podcast (at 57:55):