At first, the setting of “Hello Tomorrow” looks familiar. White picket fences border lush green yards. Classic cars cruise through the quaint neighborhood. A mother walks her baby in a sweet, blue bassinet… except the bassinet doesn’t have wheels. Neither do the cars. And those yards are being watered by flying robots, painted in pastel hues sure to please the Betty Draper-types who own them. (Not that Betty Draper takes kindly to hovering interlopers.)
Merging ’50s Americana with futuristic machinery, “Hello Tomorrow” comes across like “Mad Men” mixed with “The Jetsons” — a “retro future” that combines customs of the past with space-age technology… also of the past. The technology in Amit Bhalla and Lucas Jansen’s Apple TV+ series is the stuff of baby boomers’ imaginations, not Gen Z’s, meaning there’s no cell phones, internet, or even color TV. Instead, commuters fly to work in the morning using jet packs and relax at the end of the day with a cocktail courtesy of their local robot bartender.
Is it the future or the past? The idyllic home or just another dot on the map? “Hello Tomorrow” is awash in contradictions, from its aesthetic design to its story — but only the former forges a cohesive identity. The latter, about a con artist (played by Billy Crudup) posing as a traveling salesman for timeshares on the moon, strives to speak to ideas as big as dreams: ambition vs. practicality, freedom vs. responsibility, the future vs. the past. But its characters are more like the silver-tongued peddlers they play: big talk hiding a stark reality. And most just aren’t worth the investment.
Including Jack. Introduced during a six-minute sales pitch, Jack saunters up to a distraught man at a diner and talks him into buying property on the moon. It’s not easy. This guy tries to stop Jack before he can even get started, politely but firmly sharing that all he’s looking for is a little “peace and quiet.” But Jack finds a way in. He pries out bits of information — a disappointed wife, an estranged daughter — and seizes to them until they form a real conversation. Well, real to the mark, anyway. Jack is even sly enough to capitalize on his own predatory presence: “The fact that you haven’t slugged me yet means that you’ve got enough hope left in you to hear the one word that’s gonna save your life,” Jack says, before plopping a moon rock down on the counter and handing him a brochure for Brightside Lunar Residences. Within a few minutes, the contract is signed, while both men smile ear to ear.
It’s an impressive scene. Any actor worth their salt can make a convincing salesman — probably something to do with lying for a living — and Crudup hits every beat with an exacting level of gentle nudging and firm belief. But the sale itself also tells us plenty about Jack: For one, he’s talented. After seeing him land this cautious client, you’ll never doubt he can do it again and again, which is important as “Hello Tomorrow” progresses and Jack’s ambitions expand. But even before you learn the sketchy nature of Brightside’s properties, Jack’s sales pitch proves just how low he’s willing to go. Preying on someone’s hope so you can turn a personal profit puts Jack in pretty awful moral territory, so it’s no surprise when it turns out he abandoned his wife and son decades prior, all so he could keep his freedom, his money, and his lifestyle.
Still, there’s hope. Befitting its placement in the premiere, that diner sale may be Jack’s low-point. Perhaps he can turn things around with a little cosmic prodding, courtesy of Joey (Nicholas Podany), Jack’s grown son, who gets his own brochure when the Brightside team makes their way through his town. Though Joey has no idea Jack is his father, he’s still drawn to the man’s charisma and soon finds himself enmeshed in his business. Jack feels a belated responsibility to make sure Joey is taken care of — a mix of traditional paternal feelings and those of a man who doesn’t want to admit he’s done anything wrong. After all, if Joey’s future is secure, than Jack shouldn’t feel bad about ruining his childhood? Right? Right?
Helping ease Jack’s guilt is his sales team. There’s Eddie (Hank Azaria), a gambling addict who sees every client as a sucker; Herb (Dewshane Williams), a brown-noser who struggles to think for himself (and whose robotic demeanor makes you wonder just how far technology has gone); and Shirley (Haneefah Wood), a whipsmart administrative professional who’s still foolish enough to be having an affair with Eddie. Together, they’re happy to feed Jack’s ego so long as he keeps cutting their checks, but as the season develops, it becomes clear that none of them are as morally bankrupt as their boss. Eddie has a problem (that’s clearly beyond his control), Herb is a bit too dense to be held accountable, and Shirley is just trying to make the best of a tough situation.
Oddly enough, Jack’s only opposition (and thus the show’s de facto antagonist) is a customer. Myrtle (Alison Pill) has the bad luck of buying into Brightside when she’s hit her own personal lowpoint. Her husband is having an affair, her kids don’t appreciate her, and she’s in desperate need of a big life change. So, what’s bigger than the moon? But when second thoughts prompt her to back out of the deal, she’s drawn into especially odd corporate standoff, and — fueled by a jilted consumer’s righteous fury — she ropes in a compliance officer from the Bureau of Supervisable Activities to help expose Brightside’s suspicious operation.
How… dare she? “Hello Tomorrow,” at its core, is an antihero story, so the lack of a proper villain wouldn’t be much of an issue if the series didn’t repeatedly hand Myrtle the devil horns. She’s simply too sympathetic to root against, which makes it even harder to hope Jack somehow makes his way out from under his mountain of lies — and that’s mostly what happens in Season 1. Jack lies, he’s nearly caught, and he lies again to get out of it. Along the way, his moral compass straightens slightly, but even with a strong supporting cast and enticingly strange setting, there’s only so much time one can spend watching a bad man stumble toward absolution when that man isn’t all that complicated and his journey isn’t all that unique. “Hello Tomorrow” may look inviting in its bizarre blend of iconography, but it’s frustratingly conventional at its core. For all Jack’s talk of dreams, he’s no Don Draper.
“Hello Tomorrow” premieres Friday, February 17 on Apple TV+. New episodes will be released weekly.