Hello Tomorrow! review – Billy Crudup’s comedy drama forgets one thing … being funny

This retro-futuristic series about a timeshare salesman for moon properties is sorely lacking in comic performances. Its pace is sluggish and its plot thin. It looks lovely, though

In an era of binging v weekly release, Apple TV+ tries to have its cake and eat it, too. Its approach to new series means it drops the first three episodes in one go, but then delivers the rest once a week. It’s an attempt to satiate those trying to while away an afternoon, while allowing landmark shows like Ted Lasso and Severance time to build a buzz.

For its latest series, retro-futuristic dramedy Hello Tomorrow!, this just doesn’t work. The idea behind the show certainly packs a punch. It’s the tale of a duplicitous travelling sales team, who hawk property on the moon. Throughout, it explores the fallacy of the American dream with big shiny rockets and gorgeous costumes. But by the time the three 30-minute episodes that were provided for review conclude, you are not yearning for more. There’s no great cliffhanger that must be answered – or a deep sense of why these characters are worth waiting six days at a time to revisit.

The show has an undeniably gripping start. Billy Crudup’s salesman Jack Billings, appears alongside a dishevelled man at the bar of a shiny American diner, offering him a brighter future with a polished sales pitch delivered in a sharply tailored mid-century suit. The lightest of devilish twinkles in his eye appears when he promises, “One word is going to save your life,” and that word is “Wow!”

As the scene goes on, more delightful futuristic details emerge; the waitress is a robot that resembles Rosie from the classic cartoon The Jetsons, and what Crudup is specifically selling are cheap timeshares and permanent relocations to the coveted “Brightside of the Moon” for working-class mid-westerners, a luxury normally reserved for the rich and famous. It’s a world (whose year is never specified) of dreamy Americana rooted in the 1950s, complete with black and white TV, neon-signed diners and intricate stiff hairdos, albeit one also filled with hover cars, space migration, and distinctly non-1950s racial politics where black characters never experience racism and interracial relationships pass without comment. We then go to a woman collecting her mail from a floating van “driven” by a chipper animated stork; she is grotesquely crushed between it and her garage door.

That unsettling gore is not emblematic of what is to come, with the plot instead focusing on the antics of the sales team that Jack manages, including sarcastic gambling addict Eddie (Hank Azaria); his secret love interest, the level-headed Shirley (Haneefah Wood); the eager-to-please but naive Herb (Dewshane Williams) and Joey (Nicholas Podany) a new recruit with mysterious links to Jack. All give strong, distinct performances, but aside from Azaria, the comedy side of this supposed dramedy is somewhat underwhelming.

Just watching them go about their everyday business proves a feast for the eye; the exquisite aesthetic cannot be overstated. Classic 1950s cars float down streets (the models of the time were inspired by space-age design), homes are bright pastel, featuring Stepford-perfect lawns while kitsch robot helpers serve up crisp martinis. It is a cartoonish realisation of the American dream, but now that we have spent a near century watching the hollow promises of capitalism come to fruition, it seems immediately suspicious. Almost every element of Jack’s opening spiel is dismantled in the first episode, and it’s clear that this man is as crooked as he is charming.

There’s no explanation as to what fracture in our history created a timeline that has mastered space travel but not colour television. But the show’s opening credits beautifully express a sense of the world in a delightful stop-motion cacophony of whirring robot cogs, soaring spaceships, and wholesome American families, set to a slightly ominous tune. The most impressive feat of Hello Tomorrow! is how the show’s world convincingly coheres, understandable as a childlike fantasy from a time when inhabiting the moon’s sea of serenity seemed more plausible than wifi.

It cannot be denied that Crudup is perfectly cast in such a setting. Where some modern actors have been described as unsuitable for period pieces as “they have faces that know about iPhones” (see Dakota Johnson in Persuasion), Crudup has the opposite, a distinctly old-school jaw and hairline that seems to have voted for Eisenhower. But compelling as he is, with layers of intriguing artifice and maniacal intentions occasionally peeking out from the curling corners of his wide grin, the slight plot never quite catches up to the concept, and the production design consistently outshines the mysteries. The show plods along at a strangely restrained pace and perhaps should have taken the advice of its protagonist and remembered the “Wow”.


Leila Latif

The GuardianTramp

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