Netflix’s FUBAR and the Return of ‘Dadcore’ TV

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s FUBAR could usher in a new wave of television shows your dad would probably really like.

Fubar. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Luke Brunner in episode 101 of Fubar.
Photo: Christos Kalohoridis | Netflix

People love to talk about a new Golden Age of Television, where buzzwords like Peak TV get thrown around to describe any number of respected, popular, or critically acclaimed television shows. Certainly, there’s something to be said for the quality of a show like Mad Men or The Sopranos. Even more recent shows from the shared Vince Gilligan universe have their champions, with devoted fans extolling the virtues of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul long after the final episodes air. 

It’s good stuff, to be sure, but it’s not really peak television. Everyone knows television peaked in the early to mid 1990s when a wave of first-run syndicated action adventure comedies propped up the mid-afternoon schedules of every local broadcast channel and basic cable outlet. Thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Netflix’s new series FUBAR, it all might be coming back. 

Just ask your dad; TV peaked about the time the mullet started to die out as a viable non-ironic hairstyle. Once upon a time, Arnold Schwarzenegger slathered himself in body oil and grease paint, jumped on a plane to Val Verde, and saved his daughter Alyssa Milano from Vernon Wells in the action classic Commando. Now, he’s come back just like he promised he would to rescue streaming services from the tyranny of prestige television. 

There’s a very strong appeal to ’90s syndicated action TV. It’s simple. It’s easy to digest. There are no complicated, thorny moral issues. The only shades of gray are the various colors of guns being used by our protagonists. There’s a beauty to the simplicity of the thing. You take a well-known lead actor, give him or her a sidekick or two that are funny, and give those people a different adventure to go on every week in pursuit of some sort of main overarching story. It’s cliché to say something like, “just turn your brain off and enjoy it,” so I won’t. I will say that there’s a reason McDonald’s makes billions of dollars every year, and why foods like the humble hamburger are internationally popular. Comfort food is comforting, and Dadcore is comforting TV.

Ad – content continues below

That was the appeal of syndicated action television like Adventure Inc., Jack of All Trades, or Relic Hunter. You get a cool name like Michael Biehn, Bruce Campbell, or Tia Carerre (someone with name and face recognition) and you put them in a vehicle to make the most out of their talents without spending too much money or trying to be too clever. If you can shoehorn in a reference to a familiar property, like the Highlander movies, so much the better. 

Netflix’s FUBAR takes a winning formula that’s powered hundreds of syndicated, basic cable, and network television shows, and in true dad fashion, refuses to change what works. The first episode sets up the major plot throughline of the series, and every episode that follows builds on that by taking Arnold Schwarzenegger’s CIA operative Luke Brunner and his team on a series of 52-minute adventures. 

It feels like the spiritual successor to those ’90s syndicated shows, because it plays out exactly like Lorenzo Lamas’ Renegade. Brunner travels around, searching for the bad guy, and getting into adventures without ever really feeling like he’s in serious mortal danger. There are stakes, but it’s Arnold, and you know he’s going to come out on top, because he’s the best, and the team of quirky characters around him (including his chip-off-the-old-Austrian-Oak daughter) are always there to support their best friend/hero/father.

Schwarzenegger is the key to what makes FUBAR work. He knows how to deliver quips, and this kind of light action comedy has become his bread and butter once the edges of the ’80s were sanded off. Think of Luke and Emma Brunner (Monica Barbaro) as a grown-up version of Commando‘s John and Jenny Matrix if both of them went to work for True Lies. There’s lots of fun technology and quips, some good action sequences to show that Luke can still kick ass despite being a grandfather, and Arnold gets to dispense good advice to the people around him while not being too good to learn from them himself. 

At no point does FUBAR take itself excessively seriously, which is the hallmark of a good Dadcore TV show. There can be serious moments, but there has to be some levity, too. Even reigning Dadcore TV champion Yellowstone has a lot of funny moments amongst the (admittedly more serious) drama, most of which are powered by specific side characters doing appropriate things. FUBAR, which boasts comedian Fortune Feimster and Kid in the Hall Scott Thompson, has no shortage of those moments, with Arnold getting in his fair share of quips along the way. 

Even when people die, it’s played for laughs, not trauma. Killing people is just part of the job for a CIA operative, and everyone on the team is willing to pick up a gun and pitch in when faced with an army of disposable bad guys. After all, they’re bad guys; nobody should be shedding tears for arms dealers or drug smugglers in the world of FUBAR. There’s no need for nuance when you can make a joke about a guy getting hit by a car in a funny way. 

Ad – content continues below

Action comedy is a staple of Dadcore TV, because ultimately, the hero is the hero regardless of his actions. Any strain with his supervisors is because he’s a rogue who gets things done his own way. His marital problems? They can be easily overcome (or the wife can be replaced with a better girlfriend); the other guy is never a serious threat to Dad’s masculinity. Maybe Dad can’t use all the latest gimmicks on his cell phone, but he knows how to get the job done the old fashioned way with brains and brawn. Misunderstandings can be smoothed over, and while Dad isn’t always right, Dad generally knows what’s best and has a good heart in the end. 

The world is a confusing, scary place. Things are changing fast; too fast for most Dads and Dad-like figures to keep up. But Dad still has a place in this world, and Dadcore TV still has a place on television, even if it’s on some app Dad might need a little help navigating. This isn’t really Dad’s world anymore, but Dad knows there’s still a place for people like him in it, and there’s still a place for meat and potatoes Dadcore TV. As Luke Brunner would say, “That’s it, and that’s all.”

All eight episodes of FUBAR are available to stream on Netflix now.