If you've watched even one episode of Hulu's new time-traveling comedy, Future Man, you can't help but wonder just who is responsible for this gleeful insanity? The answer: two of the same people responsible for some of the most gleeful insanity in recent years, Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir.
The writing partners responsible for big screen hits The Night Before and Sausage Party, Hunter & Shaffir make their first foray into television with Future Man, and as such, they were paired with veteran comedy writer and executive producer Ben Karlin (Modern Family, The Daily Show) to overcome the hurdles of episodic television while keeping their comedic vision on track.
Over coffee, SYFY WIRE sat down with the trio and talked about finding the right home for their gross-out comedy, their thoughts on paradoxes, and what a second season of Future Man might look like.
How was it that Future Man became a television project?
Kyle Hunter: Ariel and I actually developed it first as a movie script. The central characters were pretty much the same but ultimately when we got to the end of the writing process, we felt the characters had way further to go. We felt like wrapping the story up in a three-act structure left a bad taste in our mouths, so once the idea developed into a TV show where the characters could time travel to multiple time periods, and you can tell endless stories, that was much more appealing to us.
You and Ariel write adult comedy for the big screen so was it tough finding the right network that would allow you to write R-rated TV comedy?
Ariel Shaffir: We wanted to find a place that would give us a lot of creative freedom. Hulu was interested and we decided pretty quickly that Hulu was the right home for it.
Kyle: If anything, they've embraced the craziest, most subversive elements of the show.
Ben Karlin: Even in today's landscape, it's very hard to imagine a more hospitable environment than Hulu for these ideas. I can't conceive 90% of the ideas we wrote being allowed on network TV.
Since Josh Futterman (Hutcherson) is a bit of a mess in the pilot, what did you envision for his arc?
Ben: We wanted to do a version of a hero's journey for Josh. We felt to be true to the character the idea is that he's a regular guy who is thrust into an irregular situation, and we're never going to make him into a superhero. He's always going to be a regular guy, and his solutions to problems are going to be regular guy solutions. He's never going to have a moment where he suddenly knows how to use a gun, or how to fight. Through talking about that we discovered there's lots of ways to be a hero. We stumbled on this thing that he's a good person, and his goodness gets him into trouble sometimes but is ultimately his heroic quality.
Kyle: The struggle to save humanity without losing his own humanity is the crux of his character.
You've also got the unexpected twist on the fish-out-of-water story for soldiers Tiger (Eliza Coupe) and Wolf (Derek Wilson). Were they always written as a duo imploding?
Ariel: When we did the feature, the main difference between Tiger and Wolf was that she was a believer and he was a non-believer. It didn't go much farther than that in the feature. But as soon as we opened it up to TV, we got to play around with how they adapt to the world. Wolf is able to adapt a lot better than she is at first, and that's a source of tension, but then she finds her way.
Ben: We really wanted it to explore different ways people embrace being strangers in a strange land. Some people resist and some people jump in with two feet. Throughout the season, Wolf is able to thrive and Tiger is tasked as the leader to keep on mission and stay focused and that tension challenges their relationship.
Now with any story that tackles time travel, there's the potential black hole of paradoxical storytelling. With Josh jumping all through time, was that a concern or were you like, "Who cares!"?
Kyle: We actually had a lot of white boards going at once. It was very confusing. Some days we were just banging our heads against the wall. Ultimately, we wanted this to feel that if you took out some dick jokes, we wanted it to function as a true science fiction story, and a time travel story.
Ben: I think we hate logic problems. It bothers us in movies and in TV shows when people are too cavalier about it. We really held ourselves to as high a standard as we could. It had to track and we had to communicate how it's tracking. If it doesn’t, then we’re not going to do a story just to be cool.
How did you guys figure out that dramatic movie star Josh Hutcherson was the right guy as your lead?
Kyle: Actually it was a James Franco movie. He had a role in The Disaster Artist, and we saw him in that. We knew him from The Hunger Games, but in Artist he was super hilarious. When he read the script, he was looking for a project that was crazy like this, and a comedy project. He really fits into the Marty McFly vibe we were looking for and is an impressive physical comedian.
Ben: He really got on board for what we are doing. There's a huge trust factor because it's a weird show. We're making him do some really weird things and tonally it's trying to do a couple things. He got it and really understood it all.
Ariel: You really want to root for him. We really put him through some shit over the course of the season. Like Ben said, his attitude could not be better.
So how much actual time jumping happens in the first season?
Ariel: It's all over. It's got to be over six or seven [time jumps].
Ben: About half the episodes take place in a different time period. Time travel is tricky because you don't want to solve problems with time travel. We needed to create plot that didn't make time travel be the solution to every problem. We made the story more about the problems time travel creates and the unintended consequences and chase to try fix the original problem.
Ariel: And we didn't want it to be the '60s episode, or the '80s episode. We want the story to feel unpredictable or sticking to a strict formula. We approached it as though we were making a really long movie.
What might Season 2 of Future Man look like if you get picked up?
Ben: We definitely want each season to be a contained story. We end the Season 1 story that we set up in the pilot in the finale, and use the elements we seeded throughout the season to build up Season 2. But Season 2 would be a completely new story. Also...with time travel it can be a different world.
Future Man Season 1 is available now on Hulu.