There is so much television in 2023. Every week, every day, a new series premieres. Thanks to well-stocked libraries on FAST channels such as Tubi, PlutoTV or CTV Throwback, you can summon up shows as old as The Beverly Hillbillies or Ed Sullivan on demand.
Or, starting Friday, you can go back to the future, all in one new show: Hello Tomorrow! (AppleTV+).
The series stars Billy Crudup (an Emmy winner for Apple’s The Morning Show) as Jack Billings, a very persuasive door-to-door salesman who is pitching an out-of-this-world proposition — timeshares on the moon!
That’s right, Elon Musk breath. In the future, people will be migrating to their very own Sea of Tranquility. In the world of Hello Tomorrow, however, they will be driving to the launch pad in their 1957 Studebaker or DeSota, except the damn car will hover like a Star Wars space sled. The tomorrow depicted in this series is a Twilight Zone where retro and future collide into one cozy world, a blend, as some have already noted, of The Jetsons meets Mad Men.
There are robots everywhere — tin, Lost in Space-like robot waitresses, for example, who take orders at the local diner. “My eyes are up here,” one lady robot tells a customer as he stares at her opening — the trap door where the coffee and pie is dispensed.
Series co-creators, writers and showrunners Lucas Jansen and Amit Bhalla told a group of journalists participating in a virtual zoom conference call Wednesday that they purposely made the robots as fallible as real people. Case in point: the cartoon delivery stork who makes a critical mistake in Episode One.
Credit property master Eric Cheripka — old enough to have attended the gadget-filled New York World’s Fair in 1964 as a six-year-old — for making new ‘bots out of old vacuums and tea pots. The robots were built by Jet Sets of Los Angeles and were brought to life by LA-based puppeteers.
For some, the Rosie the robot gadgets might get tiresome on a long-running series. I enjoyed the first few episodes of VistaVision, for example, before it went all Marvel comics on us. Bhalla, who hails from Toronto, and Jansen were aiming past the retro cars and robots and were aiming higher with their version of Tomorrow. They wanted to go back to a future to a time, as Bhalla explains, “when this country was sold the dream of white picket fences and gadgets that will save you all your time and effort.
“Obviously, that didn’t happen,” he continues. Hello Tomorrow is really a study of delusional people in a delusional world — although, don’t take that the wrong way, adds Jansen.
“It’s written by at least a pair of delusional people,” he says. “Delusion is a strange animal to us,” suggesting that human beings use the same muscles to be open to a trip to the moon as they do to be open, for example, to falling in love. In some ways, he adds, “we find that there a lot more human hope in delusion.”
Some of that human behaviour is lifted, the two admit, straight out of their love of the movies. Especially in the hands of directors such as Frank Capra, Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges.
Bhalla says the duo were also inspired by the Maysles brothers’ 1969 documentary “Salesman” as well as by Tex Avery Cartoons of the 1950s. If they also stole from Jacques Tati I’d have to quit everything and go work for them.
Crudup, so good on The Morning Show, is perfectly cast as the smart-talking salesman. In the opening scene, he has to put a pitch across in a diner with a gruff and miserable mark. The camera is right in Crudup’s face as he almost taunts this stranger to slug him in the kisser. By the end of the spiel, however, Jack Billing pushes the button that opens even the most shattered cynic’s heart to the prospect of a fresh start on another planet. Crudup is Jack Lemmon good in this crucial scene which basically sets up the entire movie.
This going to the moon business doesn’t sound that outrageous in this era of Elon Musk rocket rides. Given the fear and isolation weève all felt over the past three years, getting the hell out of this burring planet sounds pretty intoxicating. Real greenbacks get jammed into envelopes in this future world blissfully free of bank cards or cellphones. The payphones in use are hilariously retro, more like the Cone of Silence contraptions that used to crack me up on Get Smart.
Billings “BrightSide” sales team stride the same giddy fulcrum of cynicism and hope. Hank Azaria’s compulsive gambler Eddie needs to land a couple of quick sales to avoid getting his kneecaps smashed by a debt-collecting thug. Herb, played by Toronto’s Dewshane Williams, is so hopeful it is heartbreaking. Shirley, played by Haneefah Wood, remains so devoted to Jack she doesn’t even suspect that he is as phony as the pebbles in his pocket he claims are moon rocks.
Playing the woman scorned who has heard enough lies is another Canadian, Alison Pill, as suburban housewife Myrtle. When things don’t take off as fast as she hoped, she goes gunning for salesman Herb, armed with an assist from a licencing agent who takes a dim view of Brightside enterprises.
Jack’s biggest lies are to himself. You get a glimpse of what drove him there in his relentlessly unimpressed mother Barbara (Jacki Weaver). When he starts putting the biggest con over his estranged son Joey (Nicholas Podany), seatbelts and collars begin to tighten.
The father and son scenes are poignant and a little creepy, with Joey being mentored and tutored, unknowingly, by the guilty dad who abandoned him. Podany brings the right mix of idealism and anger to the role.
“You can’t save everyone, Jack,” Shirley tries to warn him. Jack doesn’t listen. He is determined to “rip the bandage off and make a salesman” out of Joey — even if it takes them both to the dark side of the moon.
There are ten 30-minute episodes, with the first three available for streaming Friday on AppleTV+ and the rest premiering on a weekly basis.