I spent a couple hours earlier this week watching Future Man, Hulu’s new action-comedy from Seth Rogen and his typical crew that uses video games as a hook. Much like other shows I’ve seen that misunderstand the reality of playing games, Future Man is better off when it’s doing what Rogen & co. do best: high school-level sex jokes and the occasional moment of out-of-left-field heart.
(Warning: There’s going to be some not-safe-for-work references below.)
This is why it didn’t surprise me that the first time I laughed at Future Man was at a long-form gag about dicks. But I laughed for a reason aside from my own secret affection for immature, lowbrow goofs; I laughed because, for the first and maybe only time, Future Man became a show about gaming that I could relate to, even briefly.
Here’s the show’s basic premise: Josh Futterman (get it?) is a janitor by day, a Biotic Wars obsessive by night. Biotic Wars is an impossibly hard single-player shooter that’s ... level-based? And played with a keyboard and mouse as well as a joystick? What?
Why Josh is so in love with a game this uninspired is beyond me, but who am I to judge? Whatever the case may be, Biotic Wars is mostly a plot device, establishing a goofy time travel plot in which it turns out the game was a recruiting tool for an army from ... the future. And thus, Josh “Future Man” Futterman is born, and along with him come mounds of references to similar ’80s movies, copious uses of the word “fuck” and even a love story.
Some of this is compelling, and some of this isn’t. Very little of it beyond the pilot, however, actually concerns video games, for better or worse. In that premiere episode, though, we get a scene where Josh visits his local game store, home of all kinds of games and a pair of know-it-all cashiers. They dismiss Biotic Wars and sing the praises of Super Mario Bros.; they later argue about Luigi’s ... well, just look at this:
Neither of these shopkeepers are drawn as stereotypical socially awkward loners. Instead, they’re familiar to me as people who are just passionate about their interests, even if they’re a little bit jerky about it. And the setting is one I know well, too: I’ve spent hours and hours in tiny mom-and-pops, looking fondly at the vintage selections. I love eavesdropping on conversations between loyal customers and the shop owners who challenge their taste and assert their knowledge over anyone else’s. Even Future Man’s off-color gags rang true for me, as someone surrounded by people whose senses of humor can often fall on that side of the line.
Josh’s experience in that little store — a place he obviously frequents, passionately defending Halo and BioShock, which is even used as a subtle punchline — is brief and expository. But it still resonated enough to start warming me up to Future Man, especially because the show didn’t play any of these characters for laughs.
Josh is a sad sack not because he likes video games, but because he has no ambitions; at the game store, he finds people who understand and share his interests, even if they, too, don’t think much of him. Hell, Josh is groomed into a hero because of his love of games.
Maybe Future Man doesn’t recreate the actual gaming experience so well. But the part about being a fan and surrounding yourselves with other people who get your love, share it and appreciate it? That’s on the money.