Future Man: Hulu’s Irreverent But Complex Time Travel Comedy

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Creators Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir and showrunner Ben Karlin share what makes Future Man an homage and a trailblazing sci-fi comedy.

Full audio of Ben Karlin’s portion of this interview on Sci Fi Fidelity (at 57:55):

The premise of Future Man sounds unique but oddly familiar. A janitor and video game addict named Josh Futturman is chosen by travelers from the future to save humanity from an apocalyptic future based on his performance in a first-person shooter. If that sounds like a mash-up between The Last Starfighter and The Terminator, it’s because creators Kyle  Hunter and Ariel Shaffir wrote it that way, not only as an homage to sci-fi of the past but because Josh needs his knowledge of what came before in order to succeed.

“We definitely pay more and more homage as it goes along, too,” admits Hunter. “They came back from the future, Tiger and Wolf, to find a hero based on the skills they thought he possessed in this video game, but it turns out he doesn’t really possess a lot of those skills.”

But the skill set he does possess might even be more useful, even if the soldiers from the future don’t know it at first. “Josh, the main character, one of his skills that kind of makes him useful to the two characters that come back from the future is that he’s seen those movies like The Terminator and Back to the Future and The Last Starfighter, so he’s able to use his pop cultural knowledge to help them navigate through time travel and being in a time that isn’t theirs,” says Shaffir.

It’s a fine line that Future Man walks by referencing other science fiction touchstones without becoming derivative of them. Says showrunner and executive producer Ben Karlin, “The last thing we’d want to do is rip off shamelessly something else that we respect and not add in some way to the canon, so you just hope that people view it that way because it was certainly our intention. It’s referential, but we feel like we need the show to stand on its own as a really interesting sci-fi comedy.”

The comedy aspect comes naturally to the team that brought the racy Sausage Party to theater audiences. Along with fellow producers, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Karlin, Hunter, and Shaffir have pushed the envelope of what TV comedy, let alone sci-fi comedy, can do, and Hulu has not only gone along with the plan; they’ve encouraged it. “I don’t think there was a single thing that I can recall where they heard an idea and they said that it was over the line or too much for them,” praises Shaffir. “If anything, they pushed us to be as daring as we wanted to be, so Hulu was fantastic.”

“In pitching out the season, they were the ones that were gravitating to the more subversive elements that we were like, ‘Oh, we’re not sure they’re going to take kindly to this,’” says Hunter of Hulu’s embrace of their adult comedy sci-fi concept. “But they really got excited about those irreverent, subversive elements that I think are going to set this show apart.”

Make no mistake, though, Future Man takes its time travel seriously. “It’s pretty complex, I’ll say, and there was some assigned reading with some time travel books,” insists Karlin. “The most important thing by far was to try and treat the time travel with as much integrity as we could because if you don’t care about the rules, then there’s no reason for the audience to care about the rules.”

Hunter agrees. “We really did want the time travel, if you stripped away the comedy, to function like a true sci-fi show. We wanted all our rules to be in place and have as few holes as possible.” Shaffir agrees, putting the “timey-wimeyness” of Future Man at a complexity level of a six out of ten.

Will audiences rate the show at least that high overall, and will it appeal to both fans of adult comedy and high-concept science fiction? Time will tell when Future Man premieres its 13-episode season on November 14, 2017.

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For the full audio of Ben Karlin’s portion of the above interview, listen below to the November 2017 edition of the Sci Fi Fidelity podcast (at 57:55) or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

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