Review: In ‘Future Man,’ the Future Calls and a Janitor Answers

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Eliza Coupe and Josh Hutcherson in “Future Man.” Credit Erin Simkin/Hulu

How many B+ comedies — fairly funny, reasonably clever, ultimately disposable — can the television ecosystem support? New ones keep popping up in every area, from the networks (“The Mayor”) to the cablers (“SMILF”) to the wilds of YouTube Red (“Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television”). They’re even more kudzu-like than noirish thrillers.

The latest arrived Tuesday from a streaming service, Hulu: 13 episodes of “Future Man,” a softhearted, foul-mouthed, highly self-aware science-fiction spoof that glories in pop-culture plagiarism. When the unlikely hero is apprised of the show’s premise, he rolls his eyes and says: “That’s ‘The Last Starfighter.’ It’s the exact same plot as the movie.” Further resonances, in the seven episodes available for review, include “Minority Report,” “Animal House,” “War Games” and a lot of “Terminator.” (Also “Top Chef.”)

In case your memory doesn’t stretch back to the 1984 “Last Starfighter,” “Future Man” stars Josh Hutcherson (himself a reference to “The Hunger Games”) as a janitor named Josh who lives with his parents and distracts himself from his millennial malaise by obsessively playing a violent, futuristic video game. When he finally unlocks the last level, two of the game’s characters, Tiger and Wolf (Eliza Coupe and Derek Wilson), appear in his bedroom and tell him that the game was a test sent back from the post-apocalyptic future to find humanity’s savior.

One new wrinkle: When the warriors arrive, Josh is masturbating, and he ejaculates all over Wolf’s uniform. This isn’t entirely surprising when you know that “Future Man” is a joint venture of its creators Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir and the producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the foursome responsible for the raunchy animated film “Sausage Party.”

Like the film, “Future Man” is sophomoric and subtle by turns. Josh cleans the toilets at a lab that’s seeking a cure for herpes — a project connected to the future doom of the human race — and one running joke involves the swabbing of possum urethras. But a lot of the humor is more sophisticated, involving Tiger and Wolf’s ignorance of the accouterments of civilization — money, love, babies — and Josh’s superior, sci-fi-geek’s knowledge of the rules of time travel.

In its structure and its sensibility — Josh, the enthusiastic video-game shooter, is horrified by the casual violence his new teammates perpetrate in the real world, which is both a clever and a sentimental twist — “Future Man” is a conventional sitcom, despite the projectile vomiting and relentless penis jokes. The cast is serviceable, and Ms. Coupe is more than that. (Glenne Headly is funny in the small role of Josh’s mother; she died in June, after five episodes had been filmed.)

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