“Future Man” pays tribute to countless pop culture properties, from “Back to the Future,” which it references in dialogue, to “Breaking Bad,” which it apes visually and from which it borrows some plot elements.
But the main problem with “Future Man” is not that it echoes any number of films and TV series, especially the recent Amazon offering “The Tick.” Riffing on what’s come before is an honorable tradition, after all. But despite the game energy of its cast, “Future Man” is mostly routine homage, with very little substance shoring up its derivative foundations.
In “Future Man,” Josh Hutcherson plays Josh Futturman, a bored janitor whose only solace is his favorite shoot-‘em-up videogame. The show takes far too long to lay out a premise that could have been covered in a few short scenes: The game is actually a recruiting tool for potential real-life warriors, and after some plodding and predictable set-up, he’s drawn into a series of time-traveling shenanigans that may save the world from future disaster.
But Josh is not a memorable character, and Hutcherson — along with the rest of the cast — is saddled with writing that’s uneven and undistinguished. As presented in this comedy, his world-saving mission, which involves preventing the creation of a certain vaccine, is hardly a compelling cause. Haley Joel Osment and Keith David give comedically sharp performances as scientists at the vaccine research facility, and Martin Starr, Ed Begley Jr. and the late Glenne Headly all do fine work in small supporting roles.
But screen time that could have been spent beefing up their roles is wasted on visual gags and extreme violence that add little to the proceedings. This is a show that takes it as a given that any dialogue or gag featuring pot, potty humor or sexually transmitted diseases is always funny. But that is not reliably the case on “Future Man.”
As Tiger, a hard-edged survivor of a nightmare future, the talented Eliza Coupe does what she can with the limited material she’s given, and Derek Wilson, who plays a gruff, occasionally loopy soldier called Wolf, has a great range of deadpan reactions and offers a few inspired physical bits. But for all of its attempts to go to extreme places and riff on out-there concepts, “Future Man” too often feels like a recycled artifact of the past.
Comedy; 13 episodes (4 reviewed); Hulu, Tues. Nov. 14. 30 min.
Cast, Josh Hutcherson, Eliza Coupe, Derek Wilson, Haley Joel Osment, Keith David, Glenne Headly, Ed Begley Jr.
Executive producers, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Matt Tolmach, James Weaver, Ben Karlin.