A Retro Futuristic Comedic Drama That Shoots for the Moon and Misses
Throughout the decades, unhappiness has manifested in different forms, especially in cinema, art, and literature. Whether it is a story about a parent unable to connect with their child or a tragedy happening abroad, movies and television have been a way for audiences to envision their problems potentially being solved, effectively creating a form of escapism, and or figuring out what the future might look like a hundred or fifty years down the future. Some movies have chosen and sought out a future that looks to the not-so-distant past to figure out what society might look like, and Apple TV+’s newest television show, Hello Tomorrow!, cashes in specifically on the nostalgia of the United States in the 1950s.
It might not be the greatest era to emulate–the fifties may have been aesthetically appealing, but it was a time full of racial tension and blatant discrimination in the United States–but Hello Tomorrow! drops its viewers into a world where many of these problems do not exist. The comedy series was written by screenwriters Amit Bhalla and Lucas Jansen, and stars four-time Tony Award winner Billy Crudup in the leading role of Jack Billings. Apple TV+ announced they were going to make the series almost two years before it was released on their streaming platform, all the way back in May 2021.
Slated for release in February 2023, Hello Tomorrow! features Crudup, who has proven capable of taking on difficult roles not only on the stage but in shows like The Morning Show too. He is joined by Alison Pill, Hank Azaria, Haneefah Wood, Dewshane Williams, and Nicholas Podany to round out the main cast. It will join Apple TV+’s impressive lineup for 2023, which will include much-anticipated releases like Killers of the Flower Moon, Sharper, Napoleon, and Blitz. In the past year, the original releases on the platform have been high quality, landing well with viewers and critics alike. Now, Hello Tomorrow! looks to add to that impressive resume.
Struggling with Life and Business
Hello Tomorrow! launches directly into its setting, a distant future with a retro twist. No matter how hard one tries to run away from the past, it looks like fifties-style music and classic American diners are here to stay–even if the bartender is a female robot. Not everyone is coming to these establishments to celebrate a birthday dinner or an anniversary, and Jack Billings (Crudup) is fully aware of that fact. He is a salesman who has made his career out of selling timeshares on the moon, and his sales pitch can be pretty convincing as he slides into the seat next to his next unsuspecting victim. As his mother lures him in to visit her, claiming that she is dying, and she wants him there, she chastises Jack for not going to visit his son. She lectures him about the same topics many mothers do: the importance of family, love, and keeping the bonds between a parent and their child together. But Jack does not want to hear it and claims he has plenty of people to meet and sell the timeshares to. Despite this, things begin to change when he seeks out a young man that, like him, is suffering from his current life situation.
As it turns out, the boy, Joey, is his estranged son he left behind eighteen years ago. His mother, Jack’s former wife, has been run over and is in the hospital. That’s when the trajectory of Jack’s life and career is about to drastically shift; as he admits to the young man, he likes to see his customers happy. He offers Joey a job as a salesman, bringing his son into the business after initially promising him a timeshare on the moon. Joey is brought into the group of salespeople, who travel around trying to make their business and profits go up, but he is not aware of the real reason Jack sought him out.
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Hello Tomorrow! then progresses down many different paths during the upcoming episodes, introducing Pill’s character in the middle of episode two when she opens the door to hear the timeshare sales pitch by Herb, one of Jack’s co-workers. Her story and unhappiness collide with the rest of the characters, and Jack, who is convinced there is something far greater out there for the rest of them, continues to be the glue barely keeping this operation together. It’s his optimism that drives the rest of the characters to do what they think is best for them, especially as their lives also fall apart.
With Hello Tomorrow! clocking in at ten episodes, neatly portioned out into thirty-minute segments, it begins to lose steam pretty quickly after the first couple of episodes. Without anything to breathe new life into it, the series could become tiresome quite quickly, even with its retro aesthetic trying to revive it in new ways that rope in the familiar for audiences. Pill’s character does add a new, slightly unexpected element, shifting the focus away from Jack and Joey for some much-needed relief after watching them try to bond under the guise of being only co-workers. His other co-workers, though, are increasingly aware something is up with Jack and Joey and have their suspicions and concerns about it.
A Character Study, But in the Future
Crudup, who plays the eloquently worded protagonist, brings charisma to the role, convincingly portraying a salesman at the top of his game. As one character says in the first episode, they believe they are not here to sell-they are out to change lives. Although Jack is full of empty promises and claims he is not waiting around anymore to live his life, there is an underlying feeling of regret that comes with all of his actions. Crudup’s Jack is brimming with confidence on the surface but is unable to cope with the circumstances of his life due to the decision he made when he was younger. At the same time, another layer is added through the element of trying to sell the properties on the moon–which, as the series continues onward, seems as sketchy as it seems in the current reality the world is living inside of. However, one of the most interesting characteristics of Hello Tomorrow! is its take on how a retro-future could look like. This concept has been done before; 2022’s Bigbug, which was done by the director of Amelie, Jean-Pierre Jeneut, is one of the more prominent recent examples in this genre. But in Hello Tomorrow! Everyone distinctly dresses like it is the 1950s, and the cartoon bus driver looks like he’s been plucked straight out of an animated series from the era. This is a stark contrast to the future which is depicted here: students going to school on personal jetpacks, robot dogs, and, above all else, people can buy timeshares on the moon.
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Perhaps this decision is a nod to the Space Race of the late fifties, which was also a time when business and technology began to dramatically shift in American society. One of the show’s first prominent images about settling in space involves invoking the imagery of the Wild West and cowboys, utilizing these images to declare those going to the moon to live there as “pioneers.” One of the key figures, which potential customers are allowed the chance to video chat with as Jack delivers a monologue about miracles, hope, and family, is Buck, a Black actor who worked in a prominent role where he played a sheriff in space. Buck is one of the many characters in this show that struggles with reality and deceit, but never fully gets fleshed out.
Hello Tomorrow! tries to shoot for the moon in an attempt for the protagonist, Jack, to find himself. Each episode of Hello Tomorrow! is roughly thirty minutes long, and while it works in moving the plot forward in a concise manner, it leaves the extent of this world it is trying to introduce in limbo. While the retro elements feed into the nostalgia for the era it represents, the show does not offer anything truly groundbreaking in this concept. It serves more as a character study for a scenario audiences have seen before in other television shows and movies, with the quirky charm of being set in a retro future. Some more petulant and disturbing parts of the fifties American aesthetic are left out for the contemporary era, but others remain. Is that a good thing? It’s up to the viewer to determine that.
The first three episodes of Hello Tomorrow! will be available to stream on Apple TV+ on February 17, 2023. The remaining episodes will be released weekly.