Apple TV Plus knows a thing or two about creating dark, weird sci-fi shows. Severance and For All Mankind may have already cemented the streamer’s niche, but now, Hello Tomorrow! is hoping to join the line-up of stellar space operas. The new 10-part series is set in a futuristic version of the 1950s and focuses on a group of traveling salesmen hawking time-shares on the moon.
The Morning Show’s Billy Crudup leads the cast as charismatic dream-peddler Jack Billings who is joined by new recruit Joey Shorter (Nicholas Podany) as they go door-to-door to sell people a home on the moon. But while their life might seem to be full of ingenious robots and American dream idealism, it soon becomes clear that Jack is hiding a big secret.
GamesRadar+ and Total Film spoke with Emmy-award-winning actor Crudup and rising star Podany all about their characters Jack and Joey. We also discussed the show’s unique setting, how it relates to America today, and the experience of working with puppet robots. Check out our full chat below, edited for length and clarity.
A lot of the tone of Hello Tomorrow! is very bright and happy, but there’s a feeling of something much darker going on beneath – was that a fun atmosphere to play with as an actor?
Nicholas Podany: I mean, I will say, while filming on set, the cast and the crew were just the most terrific, collaborative group of folks to work with. So in terms of working within the tone of the show, once the cameras were on we cultivated the dark, heartfelt, human, betrayal, guilty tone. But as soon as the cameras are off, Billy would do this thing where after I'd finished the take, he'd always look at me and just go [thumbs up]. It was just so sweet.
Billy Crudup: Did I, really? Who am I, 'The Fonz'? Sorry about that…
Nicholas Podany: It made me feel great! It was my first day and I was on take three and I remember it. We were filming in a car and you just leaned out the window and went [thumbs up]. But the tone of the show and as it comes off, I think, was so available to us because of how talented and committed and eager everybody was to making this show the best that it possibly could be.
A big part of that tone comes with the setting of the show, as a "retro future". It’s a really interesting environment for a story like this because it sets up that paradox of yearning for the past, while also dreaming of the future – what did you make of the importance of that setting to the story?
Billy Crudup: I feel like it was essential for [showrunners] Amit and Lucas. In the actual script that they sent us, they had all of that iconography. So you saw the little robots, you saw the hover cars, you saw the jetpacks, the rockets to the moon. They had them kind of littered throughout the script, which is a very ingenious way to sell it. I haven't read a script like that before that used that kind of technique to help you into the world. What they were alluding to was an America that is neither the past nor the future, but it's very much the present – which includes all of those things. It includes our history, it includes our aspirations, it includes the ways in which we have failed ourselves, it includes the ways in which we have triumphed.
I think it gets at the heart of what we're trying to do as a country in our day-to-day lives, making our way slogging through the world as Americans and what does it mean to be aspirational in this country? And how is it tied to commodification and commerce and things and the possession of things, and the promise of tomorrow? And to me, that view is all-American. Even President Biden was asked in the State of the Union address the other night, 'what's the one word that describes America?’ and he said, 'possibilities'. And I mean, Jack would have gone. 'Oh, hot damn, Mr. President. That's exactly right!' So I think all of the features of the cars that feel familiar, maybe they feel futuristic in some way, maybe they feel retro in other ways, creates this idea of an America for all time.
Speaking about being a big dreamer, Nicholas, it feels like your character Joey is one of those people, hoping for a better tomorrow and seeing the moon initially as a solution to his problems, how would you describe him?
Nicholas Podany: I think when we first meet him in the show, he's making a huge revelation. You know, he grew up in a household with a single mother, his father left when he was two years old, and so he's never left the town of Vistaville, this small suburban town. Despite all of these feelings inside of wanting to explore and have adventures, fulfill his potential, or find a purpose or anything. He squashed those, he stayed by his mom, and when we meet him, it's because Jack has rolled in and said, 'Hey, you too, can get a house on the moon.' Pretty soon after Jack tells Joey, 'Hey, I can do better, you can sell dreams to people and make their lives better.' So suddenly, Joey is sent down this expressway of just getting things thrown at him that are fulfilling all of these kinds of forbidden dreams he's had. To have it thrown at you so fast can be a bit of a dangerous and slippery slope.
Billy, one quote that stuck with me was how "Jack is always telling people what they want to hear" – but it also seemed to me it’s what he wants to hear as well. It almost feels like he really wants to believe his own rhetoric at times, how would you describe his outlook?
Billy Crudup: I kind of think you hit the nail on the head there – I think he tells himself wonderful stories all the time. And there is something egotistical about that, obviously, too, he thinks that he knows better in a way. So that’s one feature of a leader and that's one feature of an egomaniac, and I think Jack is somewhere in between. I think he thinks of himself as a virtuous leader, a preacher of the good word of hope and optimism, a better future for people, and relief from the banality of day-to-day existence. I think Jack is a true and dedicated believer in that message. And so, when you have faith in that way, at a certain point, you stop telling yourself that story because that is the story of life. That is the story of living to him. He sees it everywhere in the world. Everything has the potential for improvement as far as he's concerned.
This happens in all of our lives. We create our version of ourself to ourself. The best example would be if you go to a family dinner for some holiday and ask each person there to recount that same dinner 10 years ago, you're gonna get 10 different versions of what happened. Everybody has been telling themselves the story of what happened in that 10 years since then, and it's become true over a period of time. So I think all of us do that in some way, and Jack just does it extravagantly.
We’ve got to talk about the robots too, they’re very impressive but also constantly malfunctioning. Did it really add to the experience to be working with practical effects?
Nicholas Podany: That was the best. It drops you even more into the world with the costume, with the set design that we had, just to add one more extra thing, which was practical, and it felt like we were making a 50s show with kind of old Hollywood techniques. They were puppets and I mean, save for the three people in you know, skin-tight green suits that you would just sort of look past…
Billy Crudup: In fact, that was the part that ignited me. You really felt the carnival in full motion. There was no hiding that we're all working together in this crazy creative collaboration to create a world that seems seamless when in fact, it takes a lot of skilled craftspeople. I love being a part of that carnival. That has been one of the great features of my adult life, to be on this crazy train and when you see it in such rarefied form as you do and Hello Tomorrow!, it's a magical experience.
Hello Tomorrow! episodes 1-3 are out on Apple TV Plus now, with new episodes arriving every Friday. For what else to add to your watchlist, here's out list of all of the new TV shows in 2023 and beyond.