This interview contains spoilers for Future Man season 3.
Time travel has become an increasingly fascinating topic for television and film to set their sights on. Everything from the latest Avengers blockbuster to Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film Tenet have gotten creative with the concept, but Hulu’s Future Man has quietly been turning the topic and science fiction in general into hilarious chaos for years now. Future Man looks at Josh Futurman, a time displaced slacker who finds himself as the unlikely savior of the universe. The show has pushed time travel to its limit in the past and created one of the most fearless and humorous comedies on television.
Future Man’s third and final season has just hit Hulu and with it come a number of twists, turns, and surprises throughout these concluding episodes. For those that are eager for answers and greater insight to everything that goes down in the final season, don’t worry, you won’t have to set your TTD to the past to get that closure. We’ve talked to the series co-creators Ariel Shaffer and Kyle Hunter, as well as showrunner Ben Karlin, about the journey that Josh, Wolf, and Tiger end up on in these episodes, the evolution of the final gag that ends the series, the one joke that was too much to get into Haven, and so much more.
DEN OF GEEK: You tease the whole “Die-cathalon” angle at the end of season two. How much of this final season had you guys figured out by the end of season two?
BEN KARLIN: None of it? We like to go into each season pretty confident that it will be our last and then get to be surprised when they want more. Except for this season, which we knew was the last.
Were there any concerns over becoming repetitive or how to have new fun with time travel when developing this final season?
BK: I think because we knew that it was the last season we weren’t concerned about running out of tricks, per se. When you have unlimited powers you naturally have to find a way to limit them for comedic purposes. So I think the fact that we knew that we had this burden of having to end this story in a satisfying way made it fun for us to get to change up the rules in some new ways. But yes, if we continued to do all of this in perpetuity then it would be problematic.
When you guys started Future Man, did you have any concept of what the end of the series might look like, or were you just thinking one year at a time?
ARIEL SHAFFER: We were definitely just thinking one year at a time. When we first started writing this thing it wasn’t even a TV show and it didn’t involve time travel, so everything changed and developed over time the more that we talked about it. We just went with stories that made sense for us. There was no master plan from the start.
BK: However, I will say that when we sat down to figure out the final season we started with the end and then worked backwards. We felt like we had to do it that way.
One of the biggest and best twists of this final season is that Josh has inadvertently been helping out a time-displaced Osama Bin Laden. Talk a little about this crazy idea and if there were any reservations with going there?
AS: I think there were nothing but reservations.
KYLE HUNTER: Yeah, there were concerns, but if you’re scared about an idea then it’s usually a good one!
AS: I don’t know if you guys remember how we got there—I mean there’s obviously a one-off joke about it in last year’s finale, but I don’t know how we came back to it other than it just being really organic.
KR: I think we were just trying to think of who would be the worst person to reveal that Josh had been talking with.
AS: Then it was just kismet that we had kind of already set it up.
Was it always Osama Bin Laden, or did you consider other tyrants throughout history? Is Hitler just too played out at this point?
BK: Yeah, I think we got pretty quickly to Osama Bin Laden because it was canon by that point. Once we decided that we wanted to put a voice in his head, then make him think that he’s going crazy, then make him think he’s talking with God. It was pretty quick to get to Osama Bin Laden from there.
AS: We did obviously have reservations over how people would respond to the idea. That’s something that terrifies us.
KH: We weren’t going to do it if it wasn’t funny, but we couldn’t have been happier with how it all turned out.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are some really fantastic jokes that revolve around all of the famous individuals who are in Haven. Is there anyone that you wanted to fit in there, but couldn’t?
BK: Well I can talk about one joke that made Ariel very uncomfortable. So in Haven they all had to be people who died prematurely, but also tragically, because we were playing into this idea that Josh is a savior and he has a savior complex. So Josh had to go around saving all of these people that in his mind who had died too soon. So we were committed to having Anne Frank there and I wanted to figure out a way for Josh to get into a relationship with Anne Frank.
There was more to the idea though…Anne Frank had grown up—so she wasn’t a child—so it’s this grown up Anne Frank, but she wasn’t nice? Was that it?
AS: I think that was it. Just that he was in a bad relationship with Anne Frank.
BK: But that was the only joke that made us uncomfortable. I think that’s the only thing that we didn’t do.
KH: The rest was just a matter of not wanting to get sued by the estates of all of these people.
Everything about Haven looks so cool! Alex Buono, the director for those episodes, does such a great job with it. Talk a little on bringing this place to life.
BK: There was always this question of how we were going to execute it. It seemed like it would be way more ambitious than the resources that we had, which is always a problem, but we loved Alex’s work from Documentary Now!, so we were very comfortable letting him come up with a style and a vision for it on our limited budget. We always knew that we wanted the sky to be weird, but I think that we had more ideas dealing with the laws of physics that we had to abandon. We compromised by making it a real internal thing about what’s going on in these character’s minds, but whenever they’re outside for it to be as visually interesting as possible.
Was that “Six Months Later” epilogue always included at the end and were there different futures that you had in mind for anyone?
BK: I think we really wanted everyone to end up in their respective happy places. A major drive for Josh this season is his journey to get home, whether that means abandoning all the things that he’s done and gone back to his old life, or something else. But whatever version of home that he’s trying to return to made for a good structure for the end. I mean, the way that we set up Wolf as this Batman-like figure was one of the most organic things of all.
AS: We kind of liked the idea that when we initially meet Josh in the first season he’s this blunt instrument and he discovers all of these incredible things that he can do because he’s from the worst timeline. Like anyone, your first instinct would be to use these advantages for your own selfish gain because you’ve been denied these things all your life, So it felt like a really natural place for Josh to end up as he does this helpless thing for the world. We looked at Tiger as this survivor who’s always been getting by off of her own ability to defeat any enemy and be this apex predator, so turning her into a shepherd felt like nice maturity for her. These all felt like emotionally satisfying endings for them and that those would mean more than the group staying together, even though we love that.
There are some really satisfying moments, like with the switched toes, where heavy callbacks from the show become major plot points for these final episodes. Did you want to really bring things full circle with these final episodes?
BK: I would say that was a pretty big focus for the writers’ room. Generally speaking we call back a lot of jokes on the show and try to do it as much as possible. I think going into this season we knew that we wanted to keep the group together for as much as possible. Then we just focused on making it as fun of a journey as possible, including fitting in as many references to season one and two as they naturally happen.
There are a lot of great characters from the first two seasons that need to be abandoned for the places that this new season goes. Were there any that you tried to find a way to bring back into the mix here?
BK: We talked quit a bit about some ideas and at one point or another we tried to figure out organic ways for everyone who had been meaningful in seasons one or two to show up. We tell such wildly different stories each season that we didn’t want this to stretch any credibility either, or work as a crutch. We have a soft spot for Blaze, so we were going to bring him back no matter what. Some of the other ones were a little trickier to weave into the narrative in a plausible way.
Some of my favorite jokes from the series are the ones that poke fun at James Cameron and his filmography. Was there any effort made to get Cameron to appear in the series in some capacity?
KH: When the show came out, I believe that we got a message from—from what was it, it was such a fun title—oh, James Cameron’s “Chief of Staff.” His Chief of Staff requested DVDs of the show so that he could watch it, which seemed odd because you’d think James Cameron would have access to Hulu or be beyond physical media. But no, we never really heard anything back from him after that.
AS: We sent him the DVDs and wrote him a nice letter.
BK: I think for a hot second in season one we talked about trying to get him on the show, but doing that probably would have meant having to tone down a bunch of the jokes in that episode, which we didn’t want to do.
Y2K comes up in a very big way during the final episodes. Why was that an event from the past that you wanted to explore?
BK: That was another weird thing that we just stumbled upon. We thought it’d be fun to look at something that was thought to be a big deal, but then wasn’t, but then explore what if it really was a big deal. Y2K seemed like the best example of that and it just naturally came up. It also just seemed fun to strand everyone in modernity, but not quite in the present and still out of time. We thought that also kind of worked as this larger metaphor for how you can’t go back to fix your mistakes—that they could kind of go back to something that resembles what they want, but is just off enough.
Oh my God, that whole “Based on a True Story” riff at the end of the show is one of the best jokes that I’ve ever seen. Talk a little about how that gag came to be and evolved?
BK: I’m pretty sure that’s another joke that we had figured out really early on. Since we had this very narrow focus this time where it was just eight episodes to close out the story. It just really helped provide a clear roadmap on how we would break the season. So that turned out to be one of the first jokes that we figured out—maybe even in the first week—and it just made us laugh so hard. So we were determined that we were going to do that joke no matter what!
AS: Well I think at first it was just a “Based on a True Story” title card and then another that said, “Josh, Tiger, and Wolf still e-mail to this day” as the first iteration of the joke. I don’t remember when we pushed it such an extreme place.
KH: It was still early on, because it was on the schedule for us to shoot while we were in production. I think the show is at its best when it’s aping some trope from pop culture or movies, and that’s such a thing for these serious fact-based genres like Argo, Hidden Figures, or Green Book. So once we knew that we were doing it there was already this roadmap for tone and how it should look.
BK: What did you think of the whitewashing joke
I mean, that’s another big aspect of those movies sometimes. It’s really perfect. So, is the book firmly closed on Future Man? If you had a good enough idea in the future and Hulu was interested in fronting a follow-up movie or something, would you be interested in that?
BK: Yeah, we’re open to some kind of Christmas or Festivus Special.
AS: A live Christmas Special? Yeah, sure.
KH: Yeah, maybe a variety show is in the future.
BK: No, probably this is probably the end, yes.
KH: Overall though it’s honestly been kind of incredible, from season one to three. There weren’t really any limits put on our creativity other than basic production stuff. Creatively we could do whatever we wanted and we’re really happy with how it turned out. We think this season is the best one out of all of them.
All three seasons of Future Man are now available to stream on Hulu