clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Jack (Billy Crudup) standing in a Wonder Woman pose and looking off to the side Image: Apple

Filed under:

Apple’s retrofuturistic Hello Tomorrow! has become the ultimate crypto show

The series is finding a new way to critique capitalism

A man is at the end of his rope. His life has fallen apart. The world is filled with incredible technology these days, wonders out of science fiction, but it’s not like he’s reaping any of the benefits. He’s lost his job; his family doesn’t want anything to do with him. All that work, a life’s work, has amounted to nothing. He’s crying into a beer that his robot bartender can’t even bother to pour right.

But then a man sidles up next to him. A younger man. A man in a suit. He tells this crying man that he understands. The world is cruel, uncaring, and unfair. But there’s a way he can make the world work for him. There’s a way to take this bizarre technological future they find themselves in and actually achieve happiness. Get his daughter to talk to him again, even. And it’s moving to the moon.

This is the opening scene of Hello Tomorrow!, a new Apple TV Plus show starring Billy Crudup. While Hello Tomorrow! gussies itself up in a bright and shiny retrofuture, “The World If” meme come to life, up until recently, similar scenes have been taking place in America for years. They were happening in Discord chats and YouTube streams, mainstream publications and countless ad breaks filled with celebrities in every sporting event imaginable. Until the real-world pipe dream of crypto collapsed.

The similarities between Jack (Crudup) and his scheme for selling lunar timeshares in a development called Brightside and crypto become more and more apparent as he cons his way through every person he meets: His sales subordinates (Hank Azaria, Haneefah Wood, and Dewshane Williams), the retired actor who stars in his pitches (Frankie Faison), and by the first episode’s end, his own son, Joey (Nicholas Podany).

Dewshane Williams, Nicholas Podany and Hank Azaria sitting at a table in a still from Hello Tomorrow! season 1 Image: Apple

There are elements of scammers and hustlers of years gone by in Crudup’s performance, which calls to mind everything from Robert Preston’s iconic Harold Hill in The Music Man to the determined badgerlike sales calls captured in Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin’s 1969 documentary Salesman. At first glance, the last person he resembles is a crypto scammer like Sam Bankman-Fried. After all, crypto’s not the first big scam in history, and it sadly won’t be the last.

And yet, the easy comparison between Jack and Bankman-Fried is that they both had uniforms that gave them credibility, just mirror opposites of each other. Bankman-Fried, who is currently facing charges of wire fraud, commodities fraud, securities fraud, money laundering, and campaign finance law violations, made it his mission to be the anti-suit. Like Mark Zuckerberg before him, Bankman-Fried made a bold statement about not caring about what he looked like. Jack’s sartorial sense contrasts with that of the crypto bro: He’s the rise-and-grind bro. He makes such a show of being on top of the world — and beyond it, with his fake lunar family — that it’s easy to imagine him offering sales tips on TikTok.

But the real genius of Hello Tomorrow!, along with the strong cast and great outfits, is how Jack spreads his gospel with the investment of a true believer. Crudup’s face is a marvel to behold as he adjusts to each new step in the reality of his own invention. The only thing throwing him off his game is the sudden appearance of his son in his life, which has him spending like crazy trying to win over a child who still doesn’t know who his dad is.

That, and screwed-over customers working with regulators. Lester Costopoulos (Matthew Maher) and Myrtle Mayburn (Alison Pill) have the makings of a charming odd couple looking to strike a win for customers’ rights everywhere. Costopoulos has all the makings of yet another sucker, but his focus on forms and regulations keeps him on the straight and narrow. His best friend seems to be his hover-briefcase, which is almost a pet. He’s like a less sexy, more awkward Paul Giamatti in Billions.

With cutesy sci-fi aesthetics that hide darker realities, Hello has found a clever way into a topic that’s been discussed to death. There are already multiple shows about Bankman-Fried in the “ripped from the headlines” pipeline, all of which will pull from salacious stories of whiz kids and polycules. But for all their research, they’ll be hard-pressed to match the feeling of crypto like Hello does. The show asks viewers to believe in a world where technology is indistinguishable from magic, and then asks how easy it would be to scam people in a place like that. Doesn’t sound terribly foreign, does it?

Shirley (Haneefah Wood) and Jack (Billy Crudup) look at each other Image: Apple

The show has a strong understanding of how romantic scams can become, which makes the way it pulls its punches all the more bewildering, with executive producer and writer Stephen Falk telling The Hollywood Reporter that in keeping with sci-fi utopian nature of the setting, “we wanted to live in a world where” neither racism or sexism existed. “The politics in the show are more about capitalism and the American dream than about things like racism and sexism,” Falk said.

But the problem here is that you can’t separate things like “capitalism,” “the American dream,” and “racism” from each other. Sure, you could do that, but you end up with an extremely limited conception of the capitalist American dream. Ground zero of that post-World War II dream was the suburbs. Those suburbs started with Levittown, Pennsylvania, and had white supremacy baked right into the leases; Levitt & Sons explicitly would not sell homes to Black families, and when a Black family did move into a Levittown home in 1957, they were routinely harassed. Not all suburbs had racism built in in the same way, but Levittown cemented the vision of the American dream as lily-white.

And suburban dreams are all over Hello, including a particularly gruesome package drop-off in the first episode, “Your Brighter Tomorrow, Today.” What’s interesting about Falk’s quote is that Hello Tomorrow! feels like it’s working toward a commentary on racism anyway. Nobody does more work for Brightside than Shirley (Wood), who manages the entire operation on a day-to-day basis. Like the others, she’s a true believer in moon living, but works with Jack on making sure their operation actually succeeds. She takes his sales pitches to heart, working day and night to find the right audiences for their so-good-it-can’t-be-true deals. It’s easy to imagine Shirley taking the fall for Jack’s con, in other words. And whatever Jack’s personal feelings toward Shirley, it’s hard to ignore the optics of the situation.

The racism is implicit on Hello, and knowing that the show is actively cutting off that reading feels like wasting a fantastic storytelling opportunity. It’s not like capitalism stopped being racist after Levittown. The crypto industry propped up white supremacists, tokenized its Black employees, and oversold its “digital rebellion” with the help of celebrities like Spike Lee and Steph Curry. Crypto was seeking Black wallets to prop up a house of cards, just like how Jack sought out Shirley. The comparisons are right there.

None of this should take away from the performances Crudup and Wood are putting in — they’re the most dynamic pairing of the show. One’s a walking bullshitter, and the other has a great bullshit detector that’s been blinded by some lunar interference. The show is still a fascinating look at how a scam like crypto can feel as real as the moon in the sky and just as out of reach. Maybe if they get another season, they’ll start to really sell how the great American scams are all related.

The first five episodes of Hello Tomorrow! are now streaming on Apple TV Plus. New episodes drop every Friday.