Arnold Schwarzenegger Enters His Dad Jokes Years In His TV Debut

May 26, 2023

On May 8th, avid stargazers eyeballing the cosmos were treated to a rare spectacle: the sight of a network reboot flaming out. CBS’s astonishingly ill-conceived adaptation of James Cameron’s “True Lies” premiered in March, concluded last week, and was unceremoniously canceled before the finale aired; “steady but low” isn’t the viewership the company hoped for. That’s what happens when you repackage IP without the people who made it a success, and bank on audience nostalgia for the title instead of the cast. 
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Cameron’s name isn’t within a country mile of Netflix’s “FUBAR,” but its star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is front and center, and between the two, Schwarzenegger is more important. The latest production from “Reacher” and “Scorpion” showrunner Nick Santora, “FUBAR” is basically “True Lies”-lite, with emphasis on the “lite.” There’s no heavy lifting required here even for Schwarzenegger, who knows this routine by heart and can go through the motions in his sleep. The fact that he doesn’t, and instead tackles the material eyes open and eager, reinforces his status as one of Hollywood action cinema’s all-timers: a consummate professional who takes every endeavor seriously, even when he knows the script’s a dud (“Terminator: Dark Fate”), or when he’s the butt of the joke (Kim Ji-woon’s “The Last Stand”). 
Rather than half-ass “FUBAR’s” self-referential shenanigans, Schwarzenegger embraces them wholeheartedly. This is his first starring role in a TV show, so for the actor it’s an occasion to relish. Here, he plays Luke Brunner, a globetrotting CIA super agent on the cusp of retirement. The show kicks off as he completes One Last Mission in Antwerp, fills out his paperwork, and hangs up his various undercover aliases for good. But one doesn’t simply retire from being a CIA super agent, so when his boss, Dot (Barbara Eve Harris), presents him with a second One Last Mission – one only a guy like Luke Brunner can handle – he accepts. And going by his own moral code, Luke doesn’t have a choice. There’s a field agent embedded in Guyana in danger of having their cover blown, and it’s up to him to pull his fellow spy out before they’re discovered and killed. 
But, twist of all twists, that agent is Emma (Monica Barbaro), Luke’s daughter, who joined the CIA years ago without anyone’s knowledge. She would be their top agent if her dad didn’t already have that title. Colliding in the field takes Emma and Luke by surprise, and makes up most of the plot of “FUBAR’s” first episode, “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” as the pair hoof it out of the country and shoot to the top of arms dealer and terrorist donor Boro Polonia’s (Gabriel Luna) hit list. Boro, we learn, is the son of a paramilitary madman who Luke bumped off decades prior. Because Luke is a man of conscience, he secretly paid for Boro to go to upper tier schools, optimistic that higher education plus exposure to cultures and people from all over the world would put him on a better path. Lesson learned: optimism’s for suckers.
Boro is central to all of “FUBAR’s” plot goings on, but the series is about Luke and Emma, a clash of generations and paternity in absentia. Luke has a lot of opinions about what Emma should be doing with her life, including not being with her current boyfriend, Carter (Jay Baruchel), a kindergarten teacher, constitutional dork, and unfailing sweetheart who loves Emma with every molecule of his being. Emma, in turn, has years of pent-up resentment for Luke being away on “business” throughout her childhood. Meanwhile, Dot expects them to work together tracking Boro and eventually bringing him down. If Boro drives the narrative, then the Brunners’ dysfunction drives the humor, shaping “FUBAR” into a workplace-cum-family sitcom with intermittent fight scenes and chase sequences to break up the comedic hijinks.
Santora knows Schwarzenegger’s chief audience likely comprises dads, so he wisely constructs the show with that demographic in mind. Dad gags litter the scripts and take up prime real estate in episode titles, like “Here Today, Gone To-Marrow,” where Tom Arnold and Dustin Milligan show up as, respectively, a CIA torturer in Ned Flanders’ clothes and the deadbeat prick biological dad to Luke’s granddaughter, Romi (Rachel Lynch). Then there’s “Armed & Dane-gerous,” where Adam Pally appears playing an Adam Pally character, a charming scruffball with a preternatural talent for smuggling. Then there’s the awkward malapropisms, like Luke’s misapprehension of what “cuckolding” means, and the stream of soda brand jokes made at CIA shrink Dr. Pfeffer’s (Scott Thompson) name. Some people write punchlines hoping for belly laughs. Santora wants his audience to roll their eyes so hard that they fall out of their sockets. 
Taken in the intended spirit, “FUBAR” works quite well. It isn’t revelatory on the level people might expect from Schwarzenegger’s TV debut, but Schwarzenegger hasn’t had a revelatory project out since “The Last Stand” anyway. Instead, he’s turned out revelatory performances in movies that don’t measure up to his work, like “Dark Fate,” where he applies a heartbreaking and soulful update to the T-800 model that made his career, or “Killing Gunther,” where he yucks it up with his farmboy charisma and makes his supporting cast of devoted comic actors look like amateurs. 
Putting too much pressure on “FUBAR” presses all the fun out of it. Would it be nice if Santora had authored a brand new chapter in Schwarzenegger’s career? Sure. But to be good, or worth watching, “FUBAR” just has to capture Schwarzenegger’s enduring appeal and pare it down to fit a smaller stage. Is it the muscles? Yes, to an extent. There’s any number of heavily muscled men looking for screentime in the movie industry, but not many have the inexorability that’s key to Schwarzenegger’s tough guy persona, and fewer still will be able to turn around and sell a wisecrack with the same gruff confidence. 
Schwarznegger is free of self-consciousness, and that’s the whole part of his charm. It’s why he went from a string of straight-up actioners in the 1980s to action comedies (“Red Heat,” “Twins”) in 1988, then back to genre with “Total Recall,” then to “Kindergarten Cop,” then to “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” so weiter und so fort. It’s why he steps into a series like “FUBAR” without either over-compressing his star power or acting coltish. It helps that he’s surrounded by people on his level, whether in terms of action, like Barbaro and Travis Van Winkle, playing linguistics expert and ass-kicker Aldon; or comedy, like Milan Carter, playing Luke’s tech whiz partner and Emma’s “uncle”; or Fortune Feimster, playing Ruth – “Roo” – who steals scenes by treating dialogue like a standup routine and absolutely slaying with lackadaisical affectation. (Thompson is the show’s secret weapon, a delightful surprise if only because there just isn’t enough of him on TV these days.)
The cast gels well enough to elide the various problems and shortcuts, however minor, with “FUBAR’s” story. It’s easy to sense that Santora’s not as interested in the spy elements as he is in the comedy and the family drama, because he finds workarounds to his own conflicts. The best example of this comes up in the spillover from “Armed & Dane-gerous” into “Here Today, Gone To-Marrow,” where a major “uh-oh” introduced at the end of the former is resolved mere minutes into the latter. For those hoping for a show that prioritizes covert ops over dad puns, “FUBAR” isn’t that. If, on the other hand, you’re the “hi hungry, I’m dad” type, then prepare to embrace Schwarzenegger’s fatherly goofball period as eagerly as he has. [C+]

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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