The sci-fi comedy/drama series “Hello Tomorrow!” drops its Season 1 finale on Apple TV+ this Friday, bringing an end to weekly exchange between me and my wife: “Do you want to watch Moon Show?” (That’s what we call it).
Turns out, it was a misnomer for a misleading moonshot that barely achieves liftoff. We started out excited to watch it, but it quickly took a backseat to other shows until we threw on the finale just to see how Season 1 ends. Our fading interest in the plot tells you a lot about “Hello Tomorrow!,” boasting a premise that is far juicer than its actual story rollout, holding its cards way too close to its vest for way too long during an overlong 10 episodes.
Created by Amit Bhalla and Lucas Jansen, the retro-futuristic series follows a traveling huckster, Jack Billings, whose small business sends door-to-door salesmen to hawk timeshares on the moon. Seeing a way out of their humdrum lives, the unsuspecting customers fork over payments, while Jack repeatedly postpones the date of his fictional rocket launch. That’s right, there is no moon habitat! Just empty promises to poor earthling suckers.
It’s great seeing Billy Crudup land a lead role after his stellar support in both films (“Jackie”) and Emmy-winning TV roles (“The Morning Show”). This time, his performance as Jack is once again Emmy-worthy, reminiscent of William H. Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard, who fudged the numbers as a slimy used car salesman in “Fargo” (1996), only Crudup is more charismatic with a contagious dreamer’s spirit and a starry-eyed twinkle of hope in his lying eyes.
Nicholas Podany (Broadway’s “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”) is equally good as his long-lost son Joey Shorter, who goes to work for Jack without realizing that they’re father and son. This “cat’s in the cradle” dynamic is the beating heart of the series as we watch to see whether Joey is a chip off the old block or will forge his own path. Will he ever learn the truth about his absent father, who is now ironically his biggest professional mentor?
Other subplots include gambler Eddie (Hank Azaria) dating Jack’s suspicious secretary Shirley (Haneefah Wood), salesman Herb Porter (Dewshane Williams) reconnecting with wife Betty (Susan Heyward) and scorned divorcee Myrtle (Alison Pill) wooing lisping investigator Lester (Matthew Maher). Rounding out the cast are Jacki Weaver as Jack’s opinionated mom and Frankie Faison as the mentally-challenged Buck, who could sink or sell the scheme.
Of course, the best character in “Hello Tomorrow!” is the retro-futuristic setting. The classic yet creative production design provides a unique atmosphere of 1950s-style suburbia but with the benefit of racial diversity and the conveniences of future technology. Robots take out the trash, while black-and-white televisions broadcast the new sport jetball (similar to baseball). It’s like mankind invented devices but preferred throwback designs.
Unfortunately, the award-worthy atmosphere and performances are betrayed by story beats that sell out the viewers. In a way, the writers pull the very same scheme as their slimy lead character, tricking us into thinking we’re watching something that we’re not. We buy into the pilot for one reason, then watch a completely different story unfold. We remain earthbound. We never reach the moon. We feel hoodwinked like Jack’s customers.
It’s telling that “Hello Tomorrow!” hasn’t been renewed yet for a second season, while other Apple series like “Severance,” “Shrinking” and “The Big Door Prize” have already been renewed for a Season 2. If it is somehow renewed, I suppose I’ll still watch to see the outcome of the finale’s cleverly-constructed cliffhangers, but something tells me that the reaction from viewers is a bit of a letdown from this series’ failure to launch.