New Apple TV+ show Hello Tomorrow! blasts back to the future with a pumped-up Space Age pitchman fighting hard to keep his head above water. Actor Billy Crudup, who dazzled us on The Morning Show, puts in another magnificent turn as the Don Draper-style head of a sales team selling timeshares on the moon in a retro-futurist suburban community.
The new series, the first three episodes of which premiere today, has an awful lot on its mind — and only 30-minute episodes in which to say it all. While the delivery feels a little rushed, I’m calling it: Hello Tomorrow! is a special show.
Hello Tomorrow! recap: The first three episodes
Season 1, episodes 1, 2, and 3: As Hello Tomorrow! kicks off, a man (played by Michael Harney) is sitting at a diner drinking beer when he’s approached by a stranger who offers him a solution. How would he like to live on the moon? That might be the answer to his prayers. The man’s not convinced, but the stranger gives him such a pitch that he considers it.
That stranger is Jack Billings (Crudup), and he’s the best damn salesman in the world.
Jack lives in a fantastical alternate timeline where it’s the 1950s, but we’ve got futuristic technology. Floating robots do most menial jobs, from delivering the mail to serving coffee. Jack’s team of salesmen believe in his pitches and confidence almost as much as their clients do.
There’s Shirley (Haneefah Wood, who stars in Truth Be Told, another Apple TV+ standout) and her steady Eddie (Hank Azaria, who’s famous for his voice acting on The Simpsons). Shirley’s a rational sort, and Eddie’s kind of a hotheaded gambler who owes thousands to bad people. Then there’s Herb Porter (Dewshane Williams), who’s dealing with a little confidence deficiency.
Bad news from the nursing home
One day, Jack gets a telegram from his mom (Jacki Weaver), who’s wasting away in a nursing home. Jack’s ex-wife was crushed by a mail robot and is in a coma, so his son is currently without a parent. That makes Jack’s penchant for selling moon properties — his spiels talk about how much his family loves him — stick in his craw.
Jack makes a more emotional pitch than usual the next day, and everyone can’t help but notice. Especially a young man named Joey Shorter (Nicholas Podany), who wants in on what Jack is selling. Except, of course, Joey is Jack’s kid. Jack doesn’t tell Joey about this, feeling guilty. He gives him a job instead, promising to make something out of him. That’s easier said than done, though. The kid is the opposite of a natural.
Naturally, that’s not the only little white lie Jack must answer for. For instance, the guy he hired to be his pitchman, a retired TV actor named Buck Manzell (Frankie Faizon)? He’s in the same nursing home as Jack’s mom. Sure, Buck thinks he’s on the moon, but that’s because he’s got dementia. And the boss Jack tells people he answers to? Not a real guy.
So the big question that emerges then is: Is there anyone actually living on the moon?
The moon belongs to America!
Oh boy. Ohhhhh boy. So a little something about your author: I love retro mid-century futurism. It’s the perfect design aesthetic. I was once gifted a birthday trip to the TWA Hotel and it was the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. I loved basking in the plush, carpeted hallways of a tomorrow that never arrived.
I love the patterns on the wallpaper, the cozy feel of everything, and the awful tension between the beauty that era promised, the nastiness it was covering up, and the fact that nothing predicted by the designers of the ’50s and ’60s ever came true. Mad Men is going to be an inescapable point of comparison to Hello Tomorrow! because the characters on the former show were trying to sell people on the future depicted on the latter.
From the outset, Hello Tomorrow! may give you a little whiplash because it doesn’t tell you much about the world in which the show is set. There’s no year, no backstory, no “we did this, and so that.” It threw me, but ultimately it’s the better strategy. Don’t hinge the show on something to which you need to constantly make reference. Just let the atmosphere and the characters tell you.
And they do, after a fashion. We know Jack’s lying about everything in his life. But what we don’t know is what he’s covering up. It’s got to be pretty awful because he’s built quite the fortress around his true self.
Billy Crudup leads a great cast on Hello Tomorrow!
Billy Crudup was a stupendous casting choice for the lead role. He makes Jack into exactly the kind of guy you expect him to be. He can’t get through the simplest conversation without glad-handing and upselling. It’s a dynamo of a performance, but then the guy doesn’t give anything else these days. I’m just grateful I don’t have to sift through lugubrious and tone-deaf hours of The Morning Show to see him act.
The rest of the Hello Tomorrow! cast members are all great, too. I love the kind of lightly brainwashed quality of Dewshwane Williams’ performance as he depicts a guy who’s doing everything the right away and is constantly confused why he isn’t happier. Great work. Hank Azaria does desperation as well as anyone, so he’s a joy to watch. Haneefah Wood is stupendous as the pragmatic anchor of Jack’s office.
… and there’s an impressive creative team, too
The show’s creators, newcomers Amit Bhalla and Lucas Jansen, are guys I hadn’t heard of. But their pedigree is nevertheless impressive. And who’s that backing them as consulting producers? Why it’s David Milch’s daughter Olivia Milch, scion of the greatest TV writer in American history (which explains W. Earl Brown‘s presence in the cast as the mob legbreaker who shadows Azaria), and Walon Green, the writer of Sorcerer and The Wild Bunch, two of the best American movies of all time.
If that crew is putting a thumb on the scale on your behalf, they must see something in you. So even if I wasn’t impressed by what I saw, I’d still be willing to hear them out. But I was. Hello Tomorrow! isn’t quite a straight drama (the tone’s a little peppy), and it’s not quite a comedy (the jokes are all about the flop sweat pouring off people ruining their and everyone else’s lives). But it is the easiest thing to look at on TV, and very entertaining. Let’s go!
Watch Hello Tomorrow! on Apple TV+
You can watch the first three episodes of Hello Tomorrow! on Apple TV+ now.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.