Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg huddle around a monitor outside a stately home on the edge of Koreatown. Inside the house — with an exterior retrofitted with the insignia of a made-up African American fraternity — extras are dressed in clothes that look like Soul Train hand-me-downs. It’s a party, and the revelers are oblivious to the three intruders who have traveled from the future to infiltrate the fraternity to prevent a man from getting herpes and save humankind.
It’s precisely the kind of high-concept, plot-heavy pitch that Rogen and Goldberg have been selling to Hollywood executives for years: “James Franco hosts a party during the apocalypse,” ultimately became This is The End. “A journalist visits North Korea to assassinate Kim Jong-un,” was The Interview and “an animated sausage and bun have sex” was the hook for Sausage Party. This time, the pitch is a TV show called Future Man and it is Hulu that took the bait.
The half-hour sci-fi comedy was originally conceived as a movie by Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir, who have developed projects alongside Rogen and Goldberg for nearly a decade. But when Rogen read the script, he realized he was more interested in what happened after the story ended. “That’s never a good sign,” he told me when I stopped by the set in March. “That’s when we knew it would work better as a TV show.”
Future Man stars Josh Hutcherson as Josh Futterman, a hapless janitor who lives with his parents and spends most of his time playing an unbeatable video game called Biotic Wars. The plot gets set into motion when Futterman finally beats the game, releasing two of its characters who are battle-tested soldiers sent from a dystopian future to recruit the person that will help them save the world. Together, Josh, Tiger (Happy Endings star Eliza Coupe) and Wolf (Preacher’s Derek Wilson) must stop a doctor from finding the cure for herpes, which would somehow lead to civilization’s downfall.
When I tell Rogen and Goldberg the plot sounds like a pastiche of time travel standard bearers like Back to The Future, Terminator 2 and The Last Starfighter, they nod in agreement. “That’s intentional,” Goldberg says. “We revere those movies, and this is in many ways a tribute to that.”
In the same way Scream made self-referential nods to the slasher movies that came before it, Future Man also wears its influences on its proverbial sleeve. Hutcherson’s character often remarks on the similarities between his situation and the plots of his favorite sci-fi movies. They’ve helped shape the way he thinks and talks about time travel, and inform how he responds to his many predicaments. “He may just be a janitor, but he’s actually really intelligent,” Hutcherson says. There’s even a whole episode devoted to James Cameron, which Hutcherson explains is more tribute than a parody. “He’s one of the greatest filmmakers ever,” he adds. “Without guys like him, this show wouldn’t even be possible.”
When I sat down with Hutcherson in between takes, he informed me that he was sick, but that it didn’t matter because working with Rogen and Goldberg was the most fun he’d on set in years. The duo — who were childhood friends in Vancouver before they set out to conquer Hollywood — have been dipping their toes into television with more frequency as of late because it allows them “more freedom and more room” Rogen says. They’re almost singlehandedly responsible for getting Preacher made on AMC and developing a comedy called Singularity for FX and an adaptation of the cult comic The Boys for Amazon.
But on this day, they’re wearing their director caps. With Rogen’s mother looking on, he launches one-liners for his cast to try. If they hear his trademark laugh, they know something’s working. “Seth and Evan are so fucking funny, and when you’re on set, and something clearly isn’t working they know it,” Hutcherson says. “A couple of nights ago we were shooting at this gas station, and we were having this whole conversation about stopping someone from getting herpes because it will lead to the end of the world. If you think about what it is you’re saying, you’re screwed. But when we make Seth and Evan laugh, it feels so good. That’s when I know I’ve done something right.”
Hutcherson wasn’t necessarily looking to do a TV show after his role as Peeta in the Hunger Games franchise made him a household name. But after making a small cameo in James Franco’s upcoming Tommy Wiseau biopic The Disaster Artist — which was executive produced by Rogen and Goldberg — Hutcherson got a life-changing email.
“It was from Seth and Evan. They were like, ‘Hey Man. You were really funny. We didn’t know you were funny. Come do this TV show with us. It’s crazy.’ My mind was already like ‘fuck yeah!’ But then they sent me the pilot, I read it and I couldn’t stop laughing out loud, and that never happens, unless I’m reading a very poorly written drama.” Hutcherson didn’t hesitate. “I called them right away, and I was like ‘I’m in, let’s do this.’”
Rogen and Goldberg’s fingerprints are all over Future Man, which means there’s plenty of raunch and vulgarity to keep their most strident fans satisfied. They were drawn to the idea of making a plot-driven action comedy with enough cliffhangers to make it binge-worthy. “That’s why Hulu is the perfect format for this kind of show,” Rogen said. “We don’t mind if you consume it in one shot. In fact, we encourage it.”
But in the end, Future Man needed to answer the one question that has guided them throughout their career, explains Rogen. “Would we watch it? And the answer was always ‘yes.’”