“Sometimes giving folks a new dream to dream makes all the difference.” Those are the words of Jack Billings (Billy Crudup), a salesman who has the gift of a silver tongue which allows him to peddle his wares to the lost souls of Vistaville.
Vistaville town in a retro-futuristic world that has all the makings of a 1950s utopia; every lawn is perfectly kept, every neighbor is dressed in their Sunday best outfits and greets you with a smile. But upon closer look, there may be something more unexpected at play than in this idyllic setting; hovering vehicles, talking robots handling everyday tasks from delivering packages and walking dogs to serving your coffee just as you like it in the morning and don’t forget your booze at night. The centerpiece of every living room is an old-fashioned black and white, big tube television where commercials for rocket travel to the moon endlessly play.
This is where Jack fits in, he leads a sales team for Brightside Corporation offering life-changing opportunity condos on the moon – the American dream just a couple hundred thousand miles away. As the commercial states, they are a chance at “leaving the strains and stresses of yesterday’s world behind.” Jack is less a salesman making pitches, than he is a preacher delivering sermons to the needy, the sad, the broken in search of something better.
Crudup is confident and charismatic in the lead, part Don Draper part Willie Loman. His gift of identifying the hole in people’s lives, combined with his dashing good looks, trusting smile, and heaps of hometown charm, makes believers out of just about everybody, maybe even himself. Whatever he’s selling you’ll be buying. The questions presented are plentiful, almost as plentiful as Jack’s lies. Topping the list are who is Jack and what is he truly selling? We know he has an adult son, Joey (Nicholas Podany), whom he is now trying to build a relationship with, even if it is through deceit. If this is how he treats his unknowing son, what other secrets is he keeping?
The strong performance do not end with Crudup. The series has a remarkable ensemble starting with Jack’s sales team consisting of Shirley (Haneefah Wood), Eddie (Hank Azaria), and Herb (Dewshane Williams). They possess a level of Glengarry Glen Ross desperation and competitive nature as each looking to Brightside to fill their individual financial needs required to keep their own secrets and lies under wraps.
While the sales team is pitching luxury lunar lifestyle, jilted-housewife Myrtle Mayburn (Alison Pill, Star Trek: Picard) and Lester Costopoulos (Matthew Maher, Our Flag Means Death) are investigating what the truth is behind Brightside. Jacki Weaver is as great as ever as Jack’s pull-no-punches mother, Barbara.
Religious undertones are scattered about ranging from the subtle to the obvious; instead of praying to the big man in the sky, Jack’s faithful shift their hopes with the big ball in the sky – the moon. The blind faith of the residents of Vistaville lead to some of the series’ strongest moments which in turn are also the cringiest. While it may seem like Jack is selling them real estate, what he is really selling them is slices of saving grace, an escape from their problems, chances at redemption. He is selling them hope.
All the while, there’s an duplicitous feeling lingering about the entire situation. Are we rooting for a door-to-door savior, a con-man or something worse? The comparisons are hard not to make – Hello, Tomorrow! is part Pleasantville, part The Jetsons, part The Twilight Zone, part Mad Men with a dash of The Truman Show for good measure. At the same time the distinctive blend of the familiar and the original make it more than unique enough of a dish to stand on its own.
To be upfront, a few episodes into Hello Tomorrow! did not have me sold. I felt like a character in the series, drawn in by the luster of its promises – in this case the exquisitely detailed production design of Maya Sigel. Who would not enjoy getting lost in the robots, jet packs, the self-popping popcorn, the soothing color palette covering everything in sight? It is a return to simpler times and people (and robots)? Add to it period appropriate hair, make-up and costumes and it is like watching a retro postcard come to life, all accompanied by Mark Mothersbaugh‘s score which blends sci-fi with golden era television nostalgia.
Still, as stylish of a high concept series as creators Amit Bhalla and Lucas Jansen were pitching, it all felt like a game of dress-up at first, accompanied by a . During the opening episodes we are given only tidbits of information causing the plot meander – to the point of almost losing me. The wonder of the visuals and catchy premise can only carry a series so long if it is going to earn a dedicated audience. I questioned what we bought into was all just a promising shiny facade with little behind it holding it up. That all changed about a third of the way into the series when this rocket really ignites.
The spectacle of the retro-tech design and sci-fi aspects fade into the background as the characters take centerstage. Stakes build, character relationships become more complex and suddenly Hello transforms into a nail-biter full of drama, intrigue, and humor. Thematically the series also makes some shifts and expands and the series goes on. From that point forward each episode had me excited for the next and appreciating what came before it more.
Hello Tomorrow!’s sales pitch is not one that everyone is going to take. Those with the patience to stick it out should be satisfied even if it runs a little short on delivering all that it promises. Crudup alone is worth the retail price, whether he is swaying his congregation or teaching his apprentice who also happens to be his son, there are always more layers to explore in his performance. I was a weary buyer, but after finishing all ten episodes of season I am curious enough to sign up for more.
Hello Tomorrow! is streaming exclusively on AppleTV+ with new episodes of the 10-episode season blasting off every Friday.