Last year, Apple TV+ had a zeitgeist hit with “Severance,” a show that leveraged a high-polish gleam and an eerily out-of-time aesthetic to tell a story of people who were ultimately strangers to themselves. The streamer could be said to be attempting the same feat twice with “Hello Tomorrow!,” set in a 1950s idea of the future and centering an affably empty salesman played by Billy Crudup. Here, though, the ideas are unrewarding enough that the worked-over look of the show grows tiresome, as though it’s covering for a lack in the series’ writing.
Created by Amit Bhalla and Lucas Jansen, “Hello Tomorrow!” features Crudup in something like the mode for which he won an Emmy as “The Morning Show’s” devious executive. Here, he plays Jack, a wheel-spinning operator who is selling timeshares on the moon. His customers are people who, as in our collective memory of our nation’s midcentury past, have a fixation on the possibilities space offers but who, unlike ‘50s Americans,— see getting there as feasible. Joey, the young man Jack takes under his wing (Nicholas Podany), is an ungifted salesman at first. But he makes an emotional impression upon Jack, who is concealing that he is Joey’s father.
An ace grifter disguising hidden wellsprings of feeling gives Crudup plenty to play, and it’s unsurprising that he does it well. “What is life,” he asks a colleague played by Haneefah Wood, “without a dream to make it go down easy?,” and Jack’s urgency and desperation almost convince you that a line this written came into the character’s mind. But the big twists of “Hello Tomorrow!” are ones the viewer will likely see coming, and the show’s games with the double helix of its aesthetic — leaning back in time in order to find ways to depict technologies that haven’t arrived yet — come to feel aggressively tropey. “Succession’s” Dagmara Dominczyk, for instance, makes a very welcome appearance; she’s a performer whom the audience trusts can do any number of things. But as written, her character feels like a rote gloss on the classic femme fatale; Dominczyk elevates the role, but she shouldn’t have to work so hard.
Apple, a streamer with no shortage of money, makes “Hello Tomorrow!” look fabulous, chockablock with old-school Americana and “Jetsons” tech. Here, the tailfinned cars levitate. But the volume of things being thrown at the screen don’t hold our interest as strongly as would one really good visual idea, just as the constellation of lies Jack tells grow unwieldy not just for the character but for us in the audience, too. This is a show burbling with things it wants to show us on a craft level, but an uncertainty about the main thing: What is it really trying to say? The answer seems, ultimately, to be an exploration of a challenging guy for whom work is more rewarding than family life. And 10 episodes is a long way to travel through time to end up in a place that retro, that familiar.
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