Inevitably, the second episode of most TV shows is disappointing. Most of the flashiest stuff happens in the pilot, when the writers and producers are trying to grab viewers’ attention. And while streaming has made it easier for a series to just jump right in to a tighter story, there are still vestiges of the older model, where a second episode often had to largely reestablish the premise of the show for people who tuned in after hearing good things about the pilot. Future Man’s version of this phenomenon is an episode set almost entirely in 1969, and almost entirely entirely in one location.
Plot-wise, that means that Josh is separated from Tiger and Wolf for most of the pleasantly-named “Herpe: Fully Loaded,” as he tries to cock-block Dr. Kronish at a fraternity party before the young man contracts herpes. Meanwhile, Tiger and Wolf establish the perimeter, eventually leading them into a fight with the cops (seeking revenge for their partner, who Wolf and Tiger killed at the end of the pilot) and a biker gang (seeking revenge for their bikes, which Tiger and Wolf stole). This is a decently fun action sequence, but it doesn’t have much of a purpose beyond slightly delaying the trio’s return to 2017. The best part of Tiger and Wolf’s plot this episode is a conversation in which Tiger reveals she feels guilty and insecure after the mission to acquire their time travel device, which resulted in the slaughter of most of their unit.
Still, it seems like Future Man is laying the groundwork for stakes that are a bit smaller and more deeply felt than its apocalyptic premise, even if they’re handled with a certain degree of glee. The episode opens with an excruciating sequence in which Skarsgaard (Patrick Carlyle) has to tell his partner’s widow that her husband, Santiago, has died. Eventually, the dead man’s entire family gathers around Skarsgaard, expecting a piece of miraculous good news to share with Santiago’s unborn child. Mercifully, the episode cuts away to the title card before he can actually say the words. The escalation of Skarsgaard’s predicament is played for laughs, but is also treated as being rather serious—a far cry from the cock-block dance off that comprises much of the episode.
The cock-block is Josh’s solution to Tiger and Wolf’s original plan of killing Dr. Kronish, which is very funny, but also seems, in retrospect, futile. Keep in mind—over two-thirds of the world’s population is estimated to have herpes, and it seems unlikely Kronish would survive the next few decades of Keith David sexual magnetism without contracting it. Besides, hasn’t Josh seen any of the movies where you have to make a difficult choice to save the future? (Related: Animal House is a super weird reference point for someone ostensibly born in the ’90s—he should absolutely be channeling Rogen’s own Neighbors.) Cedric Sanders does a pretty good job of channeling Keith David while also being a supremely confident, horny idiot, which helps make the often-slack scenes in the frat house feel a bit more immediate.
Mostly, the fraternity material is notable because it’s Future Man’s first foray into trying to do what I would characterize as “gentle” political material. (For example: After Josh expresses surprise that any of the brothers are fearful at Cal Tech, one of them responds: “Just because these people are nerds doesn’t mean they’re not racist.”) Josh is forced to replicate a Bill Cosby routine about drugging women, which feels very Family Guy-esque in that it’s supposed to be funny but just feels kind of disconcerting. And, of course, Josh eventually uses the spacesuit costume he’s stolen to do the moonwalk as his final maneuver in the dance off, which becomes a reference to the scene in Back To The Future where Marty ostensibly invents rock music.
A.V. Club contributor Noel Murray explicitly calls out this gag in his pan of Future Man, which makes the very reasonable point that it simply references the Back To The Future scene without engaging with the weird ramifications of the movie asserting that a spindly white guy created this style of music, and is therefore a bit thoughtless. I think I’m willing to give Future Man a bit more slack—partly because I don’t necessarily have high expectations for the creative team beyond doing a few solid jokes and effective filmmaking parody, and partly because I worry that an effort to do more serious political material might actually be more frustrating in its cringe-worthy attempt to be relevant. (Also partly because I’m definitely squarely in the target demographic.) Future Man is fun as far as it goes, but I’m not sure any version of it should be trying to seriously enter a conversation about politics in 2017.
Instead, in the other episodes I’ve seen so far (through seven), Future Man is willing to let its more “relevant” material exist lightly at the margins. It doesn’t want you to think it’s an explicitly political show, but it does use your expectations of what a Seth Rogen ’80s homage would look like and sound like to get in a few pretty solid and smart jokes. Thankfully, it doesn’t take these jokes as being profound, the way Josh does when he acts like he’s been successful as the savior after he, Tiger, and Wolf make it back to 2017—only to discover that Dr. Kronish’s lab is still open. Not much has changed for us, either.