The main benefit of Future Man being a TV show instead of a movie is time. Additional time to build out characters, to flesh out the show’s time travel rules, and to allow for several different realities and reversals of roles. It’s why we got the two best episodes of the show so far, which are almost wholly contained in either the near future and the not-so distant past Somehow, “Prelude To An Apocalypse” manages to try to do all of these things, and even after 11 episodes of buildup, manages to still partly fumble each of them. The drawback to Future Man being a TV show, and especially a TV show on a streaming service like Hulu, is that it’s more than a little overstuffed.
Start with the good: It’s unlikely any other version of Future Man would be able to cram both Josh’s temptation to take on the life of Joosh and Wolf’s insane detox fever dream into the span of half an hour. Each is too big and serious of a beat, and feels like it should take over the whole episode. We do get a decent amount of time with some of the new roles in this reality. Stu is now the timid, awkward scientist working for who knows what in Dr. Kronish’s lab, sending possums up to his boss and waiting for the corpses to come down. (Essentially, he’s become Biff from the end of the first Back To The Future.) Carl is still alive, working security at the Kronitorium. And, of course, there’s Joosh.
Using the money Barry made from investing in AOL, this reality’s version of Josh Futturman has become an insanely popular brand. He has his own energy drink, is very good at video games (except for Biotic Wars), has turned his house into a semi-automated dream pad, delivered a TED talk called “It’s Not Selling Out, It’s Cashing In: The JFUTZ Story,” and is all around kind of a terrible guy. (Also, his girlfriend is a sex doll named Destiny, which, sure.) In particular, Josh discovers that his alternate self has hired Paul Scheer and Awkwafina’s characters to be his friends-slash-housekeepers, attaching themselves to a retinue of fame-seeking parasites. It’s a decent enough twist, and one that draws some more benefit from the show not naming the characters. Joosh has taken a fundamentally friendly, if not necessarily warm relationship, and transformed it into a bizarre employer-employee relationship. (Is the stealth lesson of Future Man that the current state of capitalism is bad and wrong? True enough.)
Worst of all, Joosh has had his parents declared mentally incompetent and put in a “condo”—a horrible nursing home that doesn’t even have cable. Ed Begley Jr. brings a startling amount of pathos to Gabe’s confrontation with Josh, a scene that doesn’t really deserve any. We don’t know why Joosh put his parents in this place, and we haven’t seen any indication of what aspects of our Josh’s personality were exacerbated or twisted by the money he got from Barry (or his unfortunate name). In fact, the show has spent most of its run so far convincing us that Josh is a fundamentally decent person who values loyalty and his family. Why would he be tempted by all of this stuff?
Thankfully, there are a lot of good jokes in this plot, or at least funny glimpses of Josh Hutcherson trying to ski down a virtual reality mountain. It also gives Hutcherson an opportunity to play douchey, when Josh stumbles on Joosh. (Of course Joosh is still there! Why would Josh replace the person who had grown up in this version of reality?) The encounter in the bathroom is a very good scene, with Joosh (now fully JFUTZ) sporting slicked-back hair and earrings, paranoid about the possibility that the Triads had sent a clone assassin after him, fascinated with Wolf’s enormous dick (which I’m uh, pleasantly surprised made it into the show, I guess?), and hopped up on his own brand of energy drink. He has a few good lines—especially “There’s a little thing called integrity when it comes to e-sports,” which is an excellent delivery by Hutcherson—but thankfully, Joosh doesn’t overstay his welcome and dies pretty quickly, slipping and cracking his head open on the bathroom.
Eventually, the presence of the Joosh corpse gives Josh an idea to save the day and acquire more soldiers for the attack on the Kronitorium: Beat Biotic Wars again, bringing back alternate versions of Wolf, Tiger, and possibly even the rest of the team. This is an insanely dumb idea, since it raises more questions than it answers, especially about how the game works as a communication device—but that’s precisely why it works so well. Future Man’s embrace of time travel being total bullshit works best when it’s a full embrace, allowing for pure insanity that feels true to the themes of the show. It’s the type of insanity embodied by Wolf’s very brief detox, marked by the inevitable appearance of the real Corey Hart, who plays a new song to ease him into sobriety.(The one downside to cocaine addiction, according to Wolf, is that it takes most of a day to kick it, which means you lose the day.) Now that that pesky, uh, drug addiction is out of the way, Future Man can get to the finish.