Hello Tomorrow!, the Apple TV+ show about hucksters selling a place in the sun (on the moon), takes a trip back in time this week as Jack relives some foundational traumas.
Also this week: Shirley thinks she has a way out of the hole that Brightside’s in, while the one that Herb is stuck in gets deeper by the minute. And Joey finds that there is no end to a life of lies once it really gets going.
This week’s offering, entitled “The Numbers Behind the Numbers,” stacks up as a superlative episode of a superlative program.
Hello Tomorrow! recap: ‘The Numbers Behind the Numbers’
Season 1, episode 6: Flashback a few years: Ace salesman Jack Billings (played by Billy Crudup) is having a performance review — and it’s not going well. His boss has crunched the numbers (or rather the computers he uses have), and the results don’t look good for Jack.
The numbers he’s been turning in all point toward a decline in productivity sometime next year. The company can’t afford that, so Jack gets fired. It happens so fast that he can barely make sense of it, but the numbers don’t lie. Jack fights for his very life, but he can’t convince his boss. It’s his time.
He doesn’t take it well. He calls Shirley (Haneefah Wood), offers up a few half-hearted words of explanation for his mood, then walks into the bathroom and tries to kill himself with an automated sink. Before he can expire, though, he’s rescued by a stranger (Joel Marsh Garland). The stranger in question is Hank, a janitor. And saving Jack meant destroying the sink, which meant Hank got fired for destruction of property.
Jack, with renewed purpose, offers Hank his first-ever sale of a plot of land on the moon, the start of the scheme in which he’s currently embroiled.
What happens when you build an empire of lies?
Jack’s troubles have amplified since those days, and Hank gets around to being one of them when he shows up at a junkyard owned by Jack’s old friend Walt (Michael Paul Chan). The situation seems pretty cut-and-dried: Jack didn’t have any real plan to get Hank and his family to the moon, so he told him to hit the junkyard, thinking he’d be long gone by the time anyone wanted to actually get to all that moon property he’s selling.
The trouble is, Jack was still around to take Hank’s phone call. Now he must explain his way out of shortchanging the man who saved his life. He does an OK job, but Walt isn’t too happy about a family camping out on his property.
He does, however, have something else to share with Jack. See, back in the day Walt was in business with Jack’s father, who died when trying to take a rocket to the moon to start a mining operation. Walt collected all the debris from the exploded rocket’s wreckage and found, among other things, a barrel. Jack’s dad’s body was never found … which means that there’s an excellent chance he’s in the barrel.
A way out, and a new set of problems
Anyway, Shirley thinks she’s found a solution to Jack’s current financial woes. What about the beautiful socialite (Dagmara Dominczyk) who danced with Jack the other night at the country club? Could she be persuaded to buy a bulk order of moon real estate? If they can sell 143 units, they’ll have enough money to process the refunds that are nagging at them.
Not just that, but Lester Costopoulos (Matthew Maher), the bureaucrat who’s been dogging Brightside, has decided to go above the law and stop Jack and Co. to impress Myrtle (Alison Pill), who ruined her life because she thought she was going to the moon soon. Myrtle and Lester discover that Brightside’s launch site is an empty plot. Now they have enough ammunition to bring down Jack and get justice for Myrtle’s broken dreams.
Salesman Herb Porter (Dewshane Williams) has got his own problems, aside from creating the Myrtle situation by not being clear about her lunar launch date. Herb’s wife Betty (Susan Heyward) isn’t actually pregnant. After lying about her pregnancy for months, she finally comes clean — and it destroys him.
Herb was already feeling bad because Betty deliberately tried to sew discord between Jack and new salesman Joey Shorter (Nicholas Podany), and it didn’t work. Herb doesn’t know it’s because Jack is actually Joey’s father (something only Shirley and Jack’s mom know). So Herb just thinks Jack has lost confidence in him.
What the Buck?
Jack’s mom Barbara (Jacki Weaver) calls and gets Joey on the phone, then invites him down to her nursing home. She wants to spend time with her grandson, so she schemes to make him spend the day with her. She’s about to explain that Jack is his father when they’re interrupted by her neighbor at the home: Buck Manzell (Frankie Faizon).
Remember Buck? He’s the guy in the sales pitch movie that Jack shows to everyone to sell them their moon estates. Except, of course, Buck’s not on the moon. He’s dying and going mad from dementia. Joey had already started believing that Jack was a liar, but this is a new low.
When Joey confronts Jack and demands answers, his dad finally comes clean(ish): No, the units that they’re selling haven’t been built yet. The money they’re going to make is what’s going to allow them to develop the houses on the plot of land Jack’s dad bought for his mining operation. Now, the question still remains: Is that true? Or is Jack going to cut and run, take the money with him and vanish?
The right kind of loser
Man, but Billy Crudup is good in Hello Tomorrow! He’s effortlessly great in a way that makes it easy to watch this show and forget how much talent it takes to be able to play a guy like Jack Billings. Crudup successfully and simultaneously sells how gifted the character is, and how conniving and evil he is, all the while making Jack likable somehow.
Part of that comes from the fact that Crudup himself is so likable. But he’s turned Jack Billings into one of the most watchable characters on TV in a few short episodes. I’d follow this character anywhere. The rest of the cast is right at his level, too, but man, what a primo showcase for a colossal talent.
Watch Hello Tomorrow! on Apple TV+
New episodes of Hello Tomorrow! arrive each Friday on Apple TV+.
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.