Josh Futturman (The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson) is pretty much obsessed with an unpopular, seemingly unwinnable video game called Biotic Wars. He plays whenever he can — whether at home where he lives with his parents (Ed Begley Jr. and the late Glenne Headley, in one of her final roles) or at a medical lab, where he’s the janitor, cleaning up after research scientists (Silicon Valley’s Haley Joel Osment and Community’s Keith David). And after one particularly lewd moment, Josh, um, releases a couple of players from that game into real life. Turns out Tiger (Happy Endings’ Eliza Coupe) and Wolf (Preacher’s Derek Wilson) think he’s the “Savior” whom they can bring back in time to help stop someone who will ultimately destroy the world.
Part Back to the Future, part The Last Starfighter (if you don’t know it, find your friendly neighborhood geek to explain), this 13- episode half-hour series from the minds behind Sausage Party (Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir) is a fine addition to the sci-fi-meets-comedy universe. There are, of course, plenty of gross-out jokes, from a giant herpes sore to a projectile vomit party to massive snot rockets. But the humor goes beyond the easy laughs, skewering everything and everyone from gamers (“Why would anybody play video games if they could do a bunch of cool s— in real life?” Josh asks) to Bill Cosby, kombucha, and Corey Hart. Hutcherson is likeably lost as the loser turned hero, but the show’s real saviors are Tiger and Wolf, with their ill-conceived attempts at transitioning from violent video game players into actual human beings walking around Los Angeles. Wilson has a memorable moment when told by the affable Begley Jr. to beat eggs for a recipe. (“Your shell is weak!” Wolf hollers while smashing said ingredient.) And Coupe, as she did on Happy Endings (RIP), steals every moment, whether trying to take a baby in a parking lot because she’s never seen one before, raging against makeup and high heels, or delivering thankless lines like “Eat a d–k.” (I wish the producers didn’t feel compelled to write an “Isn’t she so hot while being such a badass?” storyline, subversive as it was, but Coupe manages to make it work.) Bonus points for Paul Scheer and Awkwafina, who play a couple of sarcastic video game store clerks.
After watching five episodes, I was left thinking Future Man could have been a really fun 90-minute movie. Thirteen is an unforgiving number of episodes, as many streaming services have shortened season lengths to 10 or fewer. With that many hours to fill, and that much talent behind and in front of the camera, the show might have chosen to make a broader statement on video game culture. As is, the show is like a fun game you can immerse yourself in, but not one that goes to the next level. B