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Netflix’s FUBAR is a Depressingly Routine Comeback Vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger

Netflix's “FUBAR” is a show that constantly feels like it should work. After all, the idea of ‘80s superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger riffing on his action persona in a streaming series has a ton of potential. It's like someone saw that CBS was turning “True Lies” into a TV series and decided to go back to the original with a show that feels like it’s a very small rewrite from being that itself. Once again, Ah-nuld plays a man torn between being a super spy and a family man. There’s even a late-season cameo from one of that film’s co-stars! If it seems like “FUBAR” is sampling James Cameron, it’s not doing so in a way that’s consistently smart or entertaining enough. There are just enough moments of B-movie action thrills in the season’s best episodes to keep people watching, but this is the definition of Netflix’s “Watch While You Use Your Phone” television—maybe you won’t notice its lack of new ideas or willingness to repeat the same lame bits over and over again.

Arnold plays Luke Brunner, a spy who ready to retire—the star is 75, after all—when he’s called in on a final mission to rescue an asset from the grip of a villain named Boro (Gabriel Luna). Brunner can easily get behind enemy lines because he has known Boro since he was a child. In fact, he helped him out as he grew up, largely out of guilt for killing Boro’s bad guy dad. Well, it didn’t work because Boro is the same kind of nasty, power-hungry maniac always looking for something appropriately scary like a dirty bomb or nuclear material.

When Brunner gets to Boro’s compound, he’s startled to discover that the undercover agent he must rescue is his daughter Emma (the well-cast Monica Barbaro). Somehow, the fact that both Brunners are superspies is information they were able to keep from one another and other loved ones like Luke’s ex-wife Tally (Fabiana Udenio) and Emma’s boyfriend Carter (Jay Baruchel). And so “FUBAR” becomes an alternating sequence of spy missions and therapy conversations between father and daughter—sometimes quite literally with a CIA shrink nicknamed Dr. Pepper (Scott Thompson). The idea that the Brunners save the world and then hash out ALL of the family issues of their entire lives as if they’ve never had a conversation before ends up being the backbone of the show. It’s more than a little ridiculous, but it’s the repetition that really drains "FUBAR." If I had to hear one more time how Luke wasn’t there for Emma or how Emma might repeat the same problems as her dad in her new relationship, I would have jumped from the spy plane these two often use.

To be fair, episodes do take time to highlight a few supporting players. “FUBAR” often plays out a lot like one of those acronym CBS shows (“NCIS,” “S.W.A.T.,” etc.) wherein the handsome leading man and gorgeous leading woman are surrounded by wisecracking supporting players to lighten the mood. In this case, it’s the clever Barry (Milan Carter) who has a crush on new girl, Tina (Aparna Brielle). Luke’s closest in-field allies are the suave Aldon (Travis Van Winkle) and the sarcastic Roo (Fortune Feimster). Van Winkle carries himself enough like a star to be interesting, but these non-characters more often grate than intrigue. I found the courtship of Tina and Barry particularly annoying. Watching them finally become a couple is like watching kids on a Nickelodeon show discover dating.

That dynamic is only one of several oddly sanitized elements in “FUBAR,” a show that plays like the action movie equivalent of a dad joke. (And it’s got plenty of those, too, including the stunning “They’ve got more issues than Sports Illustrated.”) Life and death situations here are either brushed off with a B-movie shrug or turned into melodramatic pablum. A late-season subplot about a dying child is particularly egregious in the manipulation department, and the show’s early promise dissipates as it turns its focus almost solely to Boro. First-half missions that feature Emma going undercover in a “Honey Pot” mission and a guest appearance by Adam Pally promise a show that’s more unpredictable than the dull back half of the season is allowed to be.

It doesn’t help that Arnold seems to lose interest in his own show. After the Nth conversation about his poor parenting, who can blame him? And when the season ends with a cliffhanger that sets up another season, even that lacks urgency because of the bland plotting that has preceded it. Although the threat of more Brunner Family Therapy should be one of national concern.

Whole season was screened for review. "FUBAR" is now playing on Netflix.

 

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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