Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first streaming series is a by-the-numbers effort that fails to do much with the spy genre.
Plot: A CIA Operative on the verge of retirement discovers a family secret. Forced to go back into the field for one last job, the series tackles universal family dynamics set against a global backdrop of spies, action and humor.
Review: Over the six decades of his acting career, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been in comedies, dramas, action movies, and horror flicks, but until now, he has not starred in a television series. With streaming services now as robust as any movie studio, the biggest names in Hollywood have headlined their own small-screen shows. Schwarzenegger’s Netflix series FUBAR tries to replicate the best elements of the iconic actor’s filmography by blending action and humor with some new blood in the form of Top Gun: Maverick star Monica Barbaro. FUBAR aims high but feels barely more than a network television spy series that could have been so much better considering the talent involved. Sure, there is fun to be had with this series, but it is not like the Schwarzenegger projects of old, which found the muscle-bound icon battling bad guys physically instead of as part of a crew.
Watching the eight-episode first season of FUBAR, I could not shake how much this feels like an unofficial sequel to True Lies. If not for the mediocre CBS reboot that was recently canceled, FUBAR could have been repurposed as a continuation of Harry Tasker’s adventures saving the world. Here, Schwarzenegger plays Luke Brunner, a forty-year veteran of the CIA. Approaching retirement, Luke hopes to rekindle his relationship with his ex-wife Tally (Fabiana Udenio) and spend more time with his kids, including daughter Emma (Monica Barbaro). When he is pulled back into action to retrieve an undercover agent spying on kingpin Boro (Gabriel Luna), Luke discovers the agent is none other than Emma. Through the first episode of FUBAR, the father, and daughter contend with having lied to each other for years but work well as a team. From the second episode onward, FUBAR follows a traditional buddy cop format, with Luke and Emma embracing each other’s skills as agents while becoming closer as a family.
As the series progresses, the plot centers around Luke and his team, which includes Emma, Barry, Rooo (Fortune Feimster), Aldon (Travis Van Winkle), and NSA liaison Tina (Aparna Brielle). Each episode follows the team undertaking missions to stop Boro from using a nuclear device while also encountering standalone missions that connect to the main goal. Along the way, Luke and Emma are counseled by CIA psychologist Dr. Louis Pfeffer (Scott Thompson) and deal with their personal relationships. Emma tries to balance her work life with her romantic relationship with Carter (Jay Baruchel), while Luke tries to come to terms with his ex-wife’s relationship with Donnie (Andy Buckley). All the while, Boro is searching for the two people he blames for the downfall of his plans, and they all begin to overlap and collide. The missions mainly focus on Emma and Luke learning to trust each other’s instincts, which both help them on their individual mission and reflect on their personal lives.
FUBAR is structured so that each episode ends on a cliffhanger, which is resolved at the start of the subsequent chapter. Each episode showcases a fair amount of action, whether gunfights, fistfights, out-of-control trains, or even trying to escape nuclear detonations. With Arnold Schwarzenegger still pretty mobile at age 75, the action is mostly relegated to Monica Barbaro, who holds her own well in the sequences. Still, the action feels pretty small compared to what we usually see in a Schwarzenegger production. Arnold has done a lot of movies in his career, but FUBAR feels like it may be the most dialogue-heavy effort the actor has ever made. This is also more of a comedy than I anticipated, with a reliance on generational humor, sexual jokes, and many references, including some well-placed jokes involving Schwarzenegger’s films Twins and Predator. Hearing Arnold joke about “choppers” and Danny DeVito made me smile, even if some people may find them a bit forced.
Series creator and showrunner Nick Santora (Reacher) follows the formula of television espionage series without raising the bar. There have been so many spy series in recent years, and the scale of this series feels smaller compared to many of them. Despite being set around the globe, the action is often relegated to warehouses and indoor sets. It begins to feel a bit rote as the formula becomes more and more visible as each episode rolls by. The series directors (Phil Abraham, Steven A. Adelson, Holly Dale, and Stephen Surjik) are experienced television helmers and never really imbue the series with any scale. Still, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s charm as a leading man still comes through, and he is funnier than he has been in a long time. Monica Barbaro is up to playing more than just Arnold’s daughter. At the same time, Gabriel Luna makes for a menacing villain, even if his motivations begin to feel whiny after a while. But, whether it be the repetitiveness of the series or the imbalance between the action and humor, FUBAR feels underwhelming.
I will always be a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I definitely found myself warming to his performance in this series more than I have in most of his films over the last decade. While FUBAR has some of the strongest comedy that Schwarzenegger has done in a long time, the action and formulaic structure of the series does not harm the overall quality of the series. I groaned through the leaden style of the premiere episode and enjoyed the subsequent episodes more, but halfway through the season, FUBAR began to live up to its title. The finale teases the potential for future seasons of the show, but it would have to deviate from the first season’s structure and try something more dynamic to make it worth my time. FUBAR boasts a solid cast who are all well-suited for their roles, but they could do with a bit more originality in the story they are trying to tell.
FUBAR premieres on May 25th on Netflix.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/fubar-tv-review/