Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's new action-comedy 'Future Man' happily draws from the past

From the surrealist nesting doll of realities in FX’s “Legion” to the frank yet humane explorations of sexuality in Amazon’s “Transparent,” the best moments of the Peak TV era deliver scenes and stories you’ve never seen. “Future Man,” a half-hour action-comedy that arrives on Hulu Nov. 14, has a similar goal, but also no compunction about reminding viewers of something familiar.

Centered around Josh Futturman (“Hunger Games” alum Josh Hutcherson), a frustrated janitor who lives with his parents, the show blasts off when Josh completes an impossibly difficult video game. This feat triggers the arrival of two gruff, time-traveling warriors from a bleak future – Wolf (Derek Wilson of “Preacher”) and Tiger (“Happy Endings” star Eliza Coupe). Having completed their recruitment effort, the two of them enlist him to help save the future.

If that sounds a little like the plot of the 1984 film “The Last Starfighter” or 1991’s “Terminator 2,” you’re not wrong. “Oh, it’s very much ‘Terminator 2,’ not a little ‘Terminator 2’,” Seth Rogen says, punctuating his admission with his familiar rapid-fire laugh.

Rogen executive produces the series along with his writing partner Evan Goldberg, who have often nodded to their influences in movies like “This Is the End” and “Pineapple Express.” In “Future Man,” Hutcherson’s character is in on the joke, pointing out the similarities in what’s happening to him to other modern sci-fi classics like “Back to the Future.”

“A lot of the fun for us was to firmly make [the show] exist in a world where all the things that we’re referencing also exist,” Rogen says in a recent joint call with Goldberg. “And that’s [Futturman’s] superpower in a way, that he has a deep knowledge of all things science fiction. It allows him to navigate the circumstances in a way that he wouldn’t be able to were he not a fan of the genre.”

On a darkened set in Culver City this past spring, Hutcherson, Coupe and Wilson shoot a scene inside an LAPD office and, judging by Wilson’s head-to-toe acid-washed denim and Coupe’s Guns N’ Roses gear, the show’s latest time jump has landed somewhere in the ’80s.

Like “Terminator 2,” the characters are trying to undo a chain of events that set off the apocalypse. But instead of artificial intelligence, this world all went wrong with a scientist (Keith David) and his dogged pursuit of a cure for herpes. With the help of a hand-held time travel device (called, of course, the TTD), the three of them vie to change a doomed future.

In the scene, Wilson begins bickering with Coupe about when to trigger the next time jump. “A couple of inches doesn’t matter!” he growls. There’s a beat and he lowers his voice to a murmur: “In terms of the TTD.” In the next room, two of the show’s writers, rumpled and bearded, chuckle at the monitors.

“Day after day we push the boundaries,” Hutcherson says later in the day. “Yesterday, I had a scene where I had mass amounts of blood and guts sprayed in my face. And then I had a scene where I was hiding in a bin full of dead possums, disarming a bomb inside possum anuses.” (It makes sense in the context of the show. Really.)

“Every time I get a script, before I read it, I have a mixed feeling of fear and excitement,” he adds. “I have no idea what’s going to be in it.”

It may be vulgar, but for Hutcherson “Future Man” marks a definite tonal shift from his big-screen work in “The Hunger Games” franchise. Speaking between takes, he acknowledges the show’s “lighter touch” with imagining a dystopian future, and says he became more curious about working in comedy after hosting “Saturday Night Live” in 2013. He met Rogen and Goldberg during filming for James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist,” which led to conversations about what would eventually become “Future Man.”

“He was just there for a few days but he was just really funny ... he had this magnetic charm,” Goldberg remembers. “He also kept reminding us of Michael J. Fox, which is a person we’re very big fans of.”

“Especially when you’re talking about time travel,” Rogen adds.

For Coupe and Wilson, the inspiration for their characters was a mix of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sheltered yet lethal “T2” character and the gruffly monosyllabic heroes of first-person shooter games, particularly for Wilson’s scar-faced Wolf.

While there’s an amusing side story about Wolf discovering the wonders of present-day flavors given a future scarcity of food (dill pickles are a particular revelation), he usually speaks in a low, impatient grumble, especially in fight sequences, which find him punctuating his every move with catchphrases. “As I was trying to rehearse and find this character in front of the camera, one of the first things Evan said was ‘Just think ‘Batman voice,’” remembers Wilson with a smile, referencing Christian Bale’s hoarse delivery as the superhero.

In addition to saving the world, it also falls to Hutcherson’s character to humanize his friends from the future, who like the Terminator prefer to murder first, ask questions later. “My goal, I really want to kill a baby in this,” says Coupe in a later phone call. She quickly qualifies that her desire makes more sense as the series continues. “The thing I love about my character is she’s so nonchalant and just very matter-of-fact about everything: ‘No, it makes sense for me to kill a baby so that’s what I’m going to do.’”

Her hair dyed a dystopia-appropriate shade of pale purple, Coupe up to now mostly has appeared in comedies such as “Happy Endings” but has relished the shift into the action. “I love Sarah Connor,” she says of Linda Hamilton’s character in the “Terminator” franchise. “First of all, her arms? I’m just hoping I can replicate those.

“To be honest, I want to be the next Jason Bourne, so this is all playing into my plan perfectly,” she says.

Prior to “Future Man,” Coupe was slated to appear in the TNT series “Civil,” which was scrapped, apparently after it came too close to resembling our fractured political climate. While “Future Man” still involves a ruined future, both Coupe and the producers see this series as much more of an escape from current events than a grim reminder of them. “It’s nice to imagine the world ending another way than the way we all know it will end,” Rogen jokes. “So, in a way, it’s kind of a fantasy as well.”

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chris.barton@latimes.com

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