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'Hello Tomorrow!' seals the deal with a decidedly retro vision of the future

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm TV critic David Bianculli. Billy Crudup, who starred in the Cameron Crowe movie "Almost Famous" and on Apple TV+ in "The Morning Show," plays a traveling salesman in a new Apple TV+ series, "Hello Tomorrow!" It began streaming last week. He's selling timeshares and homes, but the properties he's pitching are situated in a very remote location - on the moon. This new fantasy series is part futuristic and part retro and, like its series star, is very likable.

"Hello Tomorrow!" takes place in a world that's equal parts "American Graffiti" and "The Jetsons." It looks and feels like the 1950s, with art deco diners and "Mad Men" fashions and sleek, giant vintage automobiles. Except the car hops are robots. The cars are hovercraft without tires. And yes, there are jetpacks. And in this exceedingly pristine and proper environment, there coexist, as in so many worlds real and imagined, the haves and the have-nots. Jack Billings, played by Billy Crudup, is a traveling salesman targeting the have-nots.

Crudup played the rock star who befriended the young Rolling Stone journalist in "Almost Famous." And his salesman Jack here has the same megawatt likeability factor. But he's also got a weariness to him that suggests a late-career Don Draper or a somewhat less desperate Willy Loman. That mixture of charm and frustration is what fuels both Jack's character and Crudup's performance. As Jack addresses a small gathering of potential customers, hoping to sell them newly constructed homes on the moon, you can hear equal measures of both.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HELLO TOMORROW!")

BILLY CRUDUP: (As Jack Billings) No one here is not a dreamer - am I right? - not in a world like this, where you can have it all. And that's what I want for you and your families. You wake up to the Earthrise out your bedroom window, your wife out on her lunar garden, your boy shagging flies on the zero-G diamond. That's the dream you all deserve. I mean, come on. Why should the rich and the famous get our moon all to themselves? No, sir. The Brightside - that's a place for real people to start fresh, unwind, retire, not to mention you own an asset your kids will be grateful for. So please take a minute - just a minute - and sit down with our top-notch sales associates and start living your brighter tomorrow today.

(APPLAUSE)

BIANCULLI: Those sales associates include Hank Azaria of "Brockmire" and "The Simpsons" as a fast-talking veteran closer with a gambling problem and Nicholas Podany as Joey, a rookie salesman Jack welcomes like a son for good reason. There are other associates, too, and also adversaries, investors and a collection of colorful characters, including Jacki Weaver as Jack's mom. Series creators Amit Bhalla and Lucas Jansen and director Jonathan Entwistle have created a colorful fantasy world here and populated it with people real enough to care about and relate to. That includes most of all Jack, whose sales pitches begin to spiral into what sound more like cries for help.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HELLO TOMORROW!")

CRUDUP: (As Jack Billings) You know what? Explain this to me. We live with miracles at our fingertips. We fly to the stars. We split atoms. We got robots taking out the trash. Why are we all still waiting to live our dreams? Well, there's a technical term for that in my business. That's called a [expletive] deal. Our best days are piling up in the rearview, and that hope keeps us going - it's wearing down to the bone. Some of us are losing people we love. And just like that, any day now, that turns into too late - gone forever - because every day that we're not living for now, right now, we're waiting around dying one empty promise at a time.

BIANCULLI: This first season of "Hello Tomorrow!" is tightly written. From the beginning, there's a question of whom to trust and what to believe. Some salespeople can play fast and loose with the truth, and that's definitely true of the ones in "Hello Tomorrow!" In pursuit of their own ambitions, these sales agents are not above lying to their clients, to one another or to themselves. Yet somehow they retain our sympathies. They all want to act better, even if it often ends up a hard sell. At first glance, it's the artistically stylized look of "Hello Tomorrow!" that grabs you. But ultimately, it's the story and the actors that seal the deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOON RIVER")

ANDY WILLIAMS: (Singing) Moon river, wider than a mile, I'm crossing you in style some day. Oh, dream maker, you heartbreaker, wherever you're going, I'm going your way.

BIANCULLI: On Monday's show, actor Ke Huy Quan. As a kid, he starred in the '80s films "Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom" and "Goonies." When he stopped getting roles in his 20s, he quit acting and started working behind the camera. The first role he got in decades, in the film "Everything Everywhere All At Once," has earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. I hope you can join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLTON SINGLETON'S "MAN IN MOTION")

BIANCULLI: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer today is Roberta Shorrock. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support by Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLTON SINGLETON'S "MAN IN MOTION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.