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If there’s one thing Apple TV+’s Hello Tomorrow! knows, it’s how to paint a pretty picture. The exteriors of its retro-futuristic world are replete with sleek hovercars and friendly-looking robots, the interiors with tasteful midcentury furniture. Within that milieu, its nattily dressed characters conjure a rosier vision still: The Brightside sales team, led by Jack (Billy Crudup), push fantasies of affordable luxuries on the moon — 200,000 miles away from Earthly drudgeries like debts, failed marriages and dead-end jobs.
So enticing is this dream that Jack himself frequently seems to lose sight of the gap between the pitch and the reality — much of the plot centers on his attempts to hide that the lunar timeshares he’s hawking aren’t all they’re made out to be. For Jack to get caught up in his lofty ambitions, though, is one thing. It’s another for the series to do the same. Hello Tomorrow! has much to say about hope, delusion and the American dream, but struggles to craft characters grounded enough to sell its ideas.
Cast: Billy Crudup, Haneefah Wood, Hank Azaria, Nicholas Podany, Dewshane Williams, Alison Pill
Creators: Amit Bhalla, Lucas Jansen
Jack understands better than most the appeal of simply running away from one’s problems. At the point we meet him, he’s been away from his family for so long that the son he last saw at age two is now a grown man (Nicholas Podany’s Joey) with no recollection of him at all. But when an urgent note pulls Jack and his team — overeager Herb (Dewshane Williams), reckless Eddie (Hank Azaria) and pragmatic Shirley (a very solid Haneefah Wood) — to his suburban hometown of Vistaville, the exaggerations and fictions that Jack has built his life around threaten to come tumbling down.
As a protagonist, Jack has a bit of Don Draper in him — the silver tongue, the marquee-worthy looks, the gift for spinning irresistible bullshit — and Crudup is well-cast as a man who’s spent his adult life simultaneously getting away with things and living in fear that someday he won’t. But his potential as an all-American antihero is shortchanged by a script whose broadness renders him opaque. How much of his own hype Jack buys into feels like an interesting question at the start of the show; it becomes progressively less compelling as it becomes apparent the show has little idea what the answer might be, or what to do with it in any case.
The crew surrounding Jack are drawn with even less detail than he is. Most are defined by a single stubborn obsession — Herb’s ambition, Eddie’s gambling addiction, etc. In combination with a tone that gestures toward black comedy without quite reaching it, they become cartoonish; even the typically excellent Alison Pill can only do so much to turn Myrtle, a disgruntled Brightside customer, into much more than a caricature of a 1950s housewife who’s finally snapped. And if the characters fall flat, so do their emotions. A major storyline with huge dramatic possibilities — Jack’s decision to hire Joey, who assumes Jack to be a friendly stranger — registers as more theoretically sad than actually moving.
Hello Tomorrow!‘s bluntness extends to its dialogue, which tends to ditch the subtext in favor of just plain text. The premiere episode, written by creators Amit Bhalla and Lucas Jansen, gives Jack not one but two monologues about the crushing disappointments of modern life. (To be sure, some of this is perfectly fitting — Jack is the sort of sweet-talker who might declare “We’re not just selling, we’re changing lives” and almost mean it.) The show’s reliance on grand thesis statements over emotional intimacy or narrative complexity begins to feel like its own form of malarkey. “Why be in the business of houses when we can be in the business of belief?” is both a tidy summary of what the series is about, and an implausibly high-minded way for two con artists to discuss the scam they’re about to pull.
Inevitably, where there’s this much hot air, there’s bloat: Hello Tomorrow! has the lumbering pace and indifferent episodic structure of a feature-length screenplay stretched to ten half-hour episodes for no other reason than that streaming prestige shows are where the money’s at these days. There are halfway decent jokes that get run into the ground and subplots that spin their wheels for half the season; a tighter edit might have helped distill the series down to its best material.
Yet Hello Tomorrow! is difficult to write off entirely, if only because the themes that serve as its foundations feel so resonant: the importance of hope but also the toxicity of it, of the frustrations of existing in a capitalist society that’s delivered far less than it promised. Particularly relatable are its flashes of anxiety around technology and corporate culture. In a bleak detail worthy of Severance, one of Jack’s most true-blue customers is a janitor who was laid off for damaging company property in the process of saving a man who’d tried to drown himself after a “processor-assisted” (i.e., algorithmically determined) layoff.
In the face of such enormous, enduring, intractable issues, Hello Tomorrow! can hardly be blamed for failing to come up with solutions, or even a coherent statement about the things it’s wrestling with — who can? But in its incuriosity about the inner lives of the desperate strivers populating its world, it lets them down in much the same way every other system has: It forgets to see them as humans, deserving of empathy and attention as more than just means to an end.
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