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‘Future Man’ Is Probably Already Better Than ‘Ready Player One’


I largely believe that you should watch before you judge. Some shows and movies that made me initially roll my eyes — Narcos, Captain America: The First Avenger, Riverdale — have ended up being some of my favorite watches. However, even knowing about the many times I’ve been been pleasantly surprised by an unlikely watch and standing as a fan of Spielberg, I have next to no confidence that Ready Player One will be good.

On a surface level, Ernest Cline’s novel should be a slam dunk for me. It’s set in a dystopian world where video game escapism dominates everyday life, and it’s packed with nerdy in-jokes that only a pop culture obsessed reader can understand. However, that’s all it is. Ready Player One isn’t a Black Mirror-esque deep dive into a tech-fueled, barely human society, nor is it a particularly interesting hero’s journey. It’s a study in nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake that often sheds its interesting premise solely to make another John Hughes reference.

Photo: Warner Bros

Jeb Lund nails the book’s sweeping hollowness in his piece for Deadspin’s The Concourse, “Ready Player One Finds The Bleak Limits of Nostalgia”. Lund makes a lot of excellent points about the implications of this universe and what it means for the characters that inhabit it, but he perfectly sums up how much this book transparently leans on the works of other creators when he writes “If you removed every nod, homage, riff, and instance of outright poaching from this book, it would cease to exist.” It’s a scathing, but true, criticism. If the film Ready Player One sticks to its reference-heavy source material without some serious edits, the movie is destined to be as boring and lifeless as the plot of most video games.

That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised by Future Man, a video game-infused, time-traveling comedy that’s happy and eager to tell its own new and weird story. Executive produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Future Man follows Josh Futturman (Josh Hutcherson), and janitor with an on-the-nose name and only one real passion in life — defeating the video game Biotic Wars. Once he finally beats it, his victory is short-lived once he meets two real-life characters from his favorite game, Tiger (Eliza Coupe) and Wolf (Derek Wilson). It turns out Biotic Wars was a training simulator sent from the future, and they need Josh the janitor’s help.

Photo: Hulu

What follows is every gamer’s secret, world-saving fantasy turned into a waking nightmare. In the future, Doctor Elias Kronish (Keith David) creates a cure for herpes that sparks a wave of scientific advancement and eventually creating a new race of hyper-controlling superhumans called Biotics. This leaves Earth trapped in a dystopian war between Biotics and humans. Though he’s standing with his favorite game characters talking about the real version of his favorite pastime, it’s immediately clear to everyone that Josh is the wrong man for the job. He has no combat skills, weapons, or military expertise. However, he does have is access to Doctor Kronish and the base human knowledge of how to look normal in public. Those are Josh’s lackluster superpowers, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. Most of the series swings between Tiger and Wolf insulting Josh for his lack of skills and Josh whisper screaming at them to not kill people in public as he babysits two time-traveling warriors.

As much as Future Man loves to lean into its own brand of bro humor, filled with STD jokes and an uncomfortably hilarious sex scene between Tiger and Wolf, there’s something weirdly endearing about the show. As Josh tries to reset the future more and more, you can see him transforming from janitorial bum to someone with ambition. Those changes extend to Tiger and Wolf as well. The more time they spend in decades not overrun by superhuman enemies, the more relaxed and gentler Tiger becomes, while Wolf discovers a whole new passion. Yes, this is a time-traveling mission about saving the universe, but through its longer format, Future Man delights in showing how this mission affects its characters while detailing zany changes from the past. Its oddly heartwarming for a show that features Keith Davis with a perpetual herpes outbreak.

Photo: Everett Collection, Hulu

From its first episode, Future Man knows its a show that was built on the backs of other creations. The series is filled with Back to the Future references, and though Biotic Wars isn’t a real game, it may as well be a clone of something that falls between Halo and Dead Space. However, Future Man takes these established creations to tell its own quirky story. Watching the series you realize just how helpless a modern gamer would be in their favorite worlds and just how deeply annoying video game characters would be in real life. Add in multiple time travel trips to the ‘80s filled with moonwalking and oddly spot-on Bill Cosby jokes, and Future Man is as funny as it is surprisingly innovative.

At its core, all sci-fi should push boundaries. From Star Trek to Futurama, these stories are about expanding the limits of human existence in new and exciting ways while questioning what these new horizons mean for humanity. In between all of its gross out moments and hilarious Haley Joel Osment rants, Future Man seems to understand that base need and almost over-delivers on it, contemplating complicated questions you wouldn’t expect from a bro comedy. It tries to be something original, something more than its nostalgic parts, and it succeeds. Maybe Ready Player One‘s film adaptation will be another pleasant surprise, but based on its transparent source material that values references over world and character-building, I doubt it.

Stream Future Man on Hulu



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