Decades ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name became synonymous with the words “action star,” so no one was surprised to learn that Netflix’s FUBAR, Schwarzenegger’s first television series, was going to be a spy-adventure show. What is shocking, though, is how well FUBAR turns out despite some rote plot elements and lackluster action sequences.
FUBAR depicts the potential harm caused by people who prioritize their profession above their personal lives. This is done by using situational comedy to highlight the poorly developed social aspects of its characters while raising questions about the legitimacy of their respective obligations. For instance, is it okay to miss major family events when something deemed more important is happening elsewhere? The hilariously turbulent relationship between soon-to-be retired CIA operative Luke Brunner (Schwarzeneggar) and his daughter Emma (Monica Barbaro) responds with a resounding no.
Their inevitable clash – created by a sudden change in plans, forcing them to work together on a mission – is mostly carried by Barbaro’s strong portrayal of Emma, whose passionate arguments showcase a genuine disgust for her father’s past dealings. Schwarzeneggar is also convincing in his role as the secret agent turned oblivious father figure. Always doting over his “perfect daughter,” he is visibly taken aback when he learns that she’s also been keeping secrets. All of their bickering is wrapped up in humor, of course – a hypocritical rant about the importance of telling the truth hits different when the person talking just brutally murdered someone. Despite the absurd situations they kept finding themselves in, Luke and Emma’s familial drama remained relatable across the season’s eight episodes.
The same holds true for Fortune Feimster and Travis Van Winkle, who entertain as CIA agents Roo and Aldon, respectively. While not all of their jokes land as intended, their immature banter is often a funny reflection of their onscreen chemistry. Milan Carter’s Berry, Luke’s handler and best friend, is charming as well. His nuanced delivery of well-placed lines helps the sillier conversations (that aren’t outright comical) be a little more endearing – more so when playing opposite the talented Aparna Brielle as NSA agent Tina. Gabriel Luna’s Boro isn’t the most memorable villain, but he does well enough to warrant the malice that comes his way.
In fact, FUBAR’s entire cast does a good job of playing off of one another. Whether it’s a set up for a line that alludes Schwarzenegger’s past as a bodybuilder or the straight-faced reframing of a modernized term, the payoff usually works despite being somewhat predictable. This results in some really amusing encounters, heartfelt moments, and a few brief exchanges that go beyond an expected cliche. Unfortunately, the repetitive and chaotic nature of FUBAR’s premise can sometimes undermine the cast’s performances.
In this show, anything that can go wrong, does go wrong in spectacular fashion (hence the title). The problem is that these misshapes occur so often that they become predictable, ruining some of the physical humor. Seeing a body slam against a window right after a declaration of peace is hilarious – it’s all in the timing. But that doesn’t work if the audience can see the joke coming; it’s obvious that the inebriated person improperly holding a powerful weapon is going to accidentally destroy something valuable.
There’s also the cyclical nature of Luke and Emma’s plight. Because their plans constantly blow up in their faces, they’re made to rehash the same conversations about needing to trust one another or how it’s important to be honest with loved ones over and over again. It all becomes exhausting to witness, on top of the fact that it becomes hard to root for people who can’t seem to learn from their mistakes.
This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the action scenes were better, but outside of a few cool moments, most of the fights are generic. Having all the bad guys suffer from terrible aim is certainly an enjoyable late ‘80s, early ‘90s vibe, but the weak choreography, middling shootouts, and uneven special effects leave a lot to be desired. An odd situation considering FUBAR was developed by Nick Santora, who previously created Amazon’s hit show Reacher, which is packed with great fights and stunts.
To be fair, FUBAR isn’t meant to be a series composed of nonstop action. The emphasis is always placed on the interpersonal drama amid the wackiest of events, and it mostly works. Seeing Luke and co. creatively work their way through each calamity is fun at times. It would have been nice, however, if when the guns came out the action matched the intensity those moments called for.
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