Rest assured, Hulu’s newest series starring Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson manages to be both crass comedy and hard sci-fi. It straddles a fine line between thoughtful genre fare that’s focused heavily on time travel and its implications and Seth Rogen’s comedic landscape filled with violence and dick jokes. Amazingly, everything gels together uncannily well, thanks in large part to the show’s creators and writers, Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir.
In Future Man, after Josh Futterman beats an unbeatable video game set in the war-torn future, characters from the video game take a time machine to 2017 to enlist him for a time-traveling adventure to prevent the apocalypse.
Inverse caught up with Hunter and Shaffir shortly before the show’s release on November 14 to discuss the difficulties of shifting from movies like Sausage Party to writing a a more episodic story, maintaining hard sci-fi on a comedy show’s budget, and their unending enthusiasm for all things James Cameron.
I love how honestly Future Man riffs on all these different bits of sci-fi. Josh himself references a ton of stuff. What are some of your favorite things you drew inspiration from?
Ariel Shaffir: Originally it was Terminator and Back to the Future I think we leaned the heaviest on. Obviously, The Last Starfighter was a way into the story. But those are the three big ones. There are also a couple fun ‘80s movies sprinkled in.
**Obviously you both have worked together with Seth Rogen on a number of movies before this. What was it like moving towards a more episodic model of storytelling?
Kyle Hunter: Coming from a movie background with a three-act structure made this experience a bit different. The season-long plots and getting those plot points in there to drive the serialized nature requires a very different approach. But also having an episode stand alone with its own theme is interesting. That was definitely a challenge.
Ariel Shaffir: It’s fun to come up with those comedic conceits for the different episodes, like the one that takes place in a frat house, or smart house, or — well I don’t want to give anything away. But they’re fun little ways to frame the episode. For a show that’s trying to be both comedy and sci-fi, it was a lot of fun to come up with the different sci-fi scenarios to draw the comedy from.
Kyle Hunter: The back-half of the season especially, each episode is structurally different. So each new story feels fresh and throws you off in a nice way. You can’t get too comfortable.
Do you guys have a favorite?
Ariel Shaffir: I’m hesitant to give anything away, but all of our favorite episode is the James Cameron one. I just can’t believe they actually let us do that.
Do you consider youselves James Cameron superfans?
Kyle Hunter: Oh my god, yes. The only way you can do an episode like that is if you love the man desperately. It’s a homage, really. Hopefully, he has a sense of humor about the whole thing. From the various plot points to character arcs and even lighting in the episode, we tried to draw real inspiration from his movies for a lot of that.
Ariel Shaffir: We made him the father of time travel!
Kyle Hunter: Yeah! [laughing]
What’s it been like working with Hulu?
Ariel Shaffir: It’s been great. They didn’t give us any real creative limitations. There was never an idea that was floated by that they deemed too crazy or anything like that. They kind of allowed us to do whatever weird, crazy stories we wanted. In that sense it was pretty awesome.
Kyle Hunter: If anything, they liked our weirdest ideas even more, like doing meth or exploding heads.
What was it like building out the universe and messing with time travel?
Kyle Hunter: Daunting!
Ariel Shaffir: But also super fun! We had a great time coming up with that stuff. We got to be as silly as possible, and hopefully, we get to do a lot more of that. We hope it’s a show unlike anything else that’s out there.
Kyle Hunter: We got to create multiple timelines and write how every sequence of events changed whenever Tiger and Wolf started affecting the past. It inevitably led to a lot of whiteboards with a bunch of graphs and diagrams.
What was most challenging about making Future Man?
Kyle Hunter: We really wanted to give it the scope of a legitimate sci-fi show or movie on a 30-minute comedy budget. That’s definitely a challenge. We felt that if we didn’t provide that level of scope, then it would feel like a spoof rather than something legitimate.
You want to believe that these three characters could die at any moment, which isn’t something you normally see in a 30-minute comedy. That was a challenge but our entire team just knocked it out of the park.
Future Man’s first 13-episode first season is currently available to stream only on Hulu.