“Despite Arnold Schwarzenegger and Monica Barbaro’s entertaining lead performances, FUBAR ultimately feels like yet another Netflix original TV series that would have been better off as a movie.”
- Schwarzenegger and Barbaro’s fun lead performances
- A refreshingly absurd tone throughout
- An uninteresting, boring villain
- Consistently overlong episode runtimes
- Numerous outdated, cringey jokes throughout
FUBAR feels like a straight-to-DVD action movie that was turned into an eight-episode Netflix series. The new Arnold Schwarzenegger-led comedy has enough outdated jokes and low-rent visuals to pass for the kind of thing one used to find at the bottom of a bargain bin. To be clear: That’s not to say FUBAR is totally devoid of charm. On the contrary, there are moments throughout the series’ first season where it works perfectly fine as a brainless action comedy.
The difference between FUBAR and the straight-to-DVD action movies of old, though, is that this one lasts nearly eight hours while the other usually found a way to say hello and goodbye within the span of around 90 minutes. FUBAR is, in other words, yet another casualty of Hollywood’s increasing disinterest in the feature film format. That trend has resulted in a growing number of regrettable TV shows like FUBAR, which is an occasionally effective comedy that inevitably overstays its welcome by about five hours.
Coming just a few months after Paramount+ gave Sylvester Stallone the chance to lead his own TV series, Netflix has now done the same for Arnold Schwarzenegger with FUBAR. Although the new, Nick Santora-created series exists in a totally different genre than Stallone’s Tulsa King, the two shows have more in common than just the fact that they’re led by a pair of Hollywood action movie titans. Both series, notably, give their stars the chance to play lifelong badasses who are better at managing their professional lives than their personal ones. Unlike Tulsa King, though, which spends a majority of its first season focused on the minutiae of its lead’s rise through the mob world, FUBAR is more interested in exploring its hero’s atrocious work-life balance than his own covert exploits.
The hero in question is Schwarzenegger’s Luke Brunner, a longtime CIA agent who is on the verge of finally retiring when FUBAR begins. His plans quickly change when he is ordered to go on a field mission to extract another agent before their identity is compromised and they are swiftly killed by their target, Boro (Gabriel Luna), an arms dealer whom Luke once looked after and cared for as a child. When he arrives on Boro’s compound masquerading as the surrogate father figure the villain once knew, Luke is shocked to discover that the compromised agent he’s been sent to save is none other than his own daughter, Emma (Monica Barbaro).
Luke and Emma’s shared discovery that they’ve both been lying to each other about their careers leads to plenty of arguments between the father and daughter, many of which continue even after their initial mission has come to an end. Their relationship, in fact, emerges as the core focus of FUBAR, which often explores the fallout of the lies Emma and Luke have each told with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Fortunately, while the pair’s constant disagreements can frequently become grating, Barbaro and Schwarzenegger have enough charisma and chemistry to lift up many of their scenes together.
Like many TV shows before it, FUBAR takes several episodes to find its footing. The show’s premiere is a hokey and oddly paced hour of television, and it’s really not until its third or fourth episode that it begins to feel like FUBAR has figured out the complexities of its core relationships. That’s especially true for the central dynamic between Barbaro’s Emma and Schwarzenegger’s Luke, which works best whenever FUBAR decides to lessen the levels of venom and spite between them. One scene, in which Schwarzenegger and Barbaro are asked to do impressions of each other while holding onto Muppet-like puppets of their characters, easily ranks among FUBAR’s funniest and best.
If that sounds a bit ridiculous, that’s because it definitely is. Thankfully, FUBAR doesn’t ever take itself too seriously. The series is an absurd action comedy that feels deeply indebted to films and TV shows like True Lies and Get Smart. While it isn’t quite as clever as the latter or as technically accomplished as the former, FUBAR is often at its best whenever it’s trying to be the lightest possible version of those two titles. It is, in turn, far less successful whenever it asks you to be invested in Emma’s increasingly turbulent relationship with her clueless longtime boyfriend, Carter (Jay Baruchel), or her flirtatious bond with Aldon (Travis Van Winkle), a handsome member of Luke’s personal CIA team.
Across the board, FUBAR’s supporting relationships, characters, and subplots leave a lot to be desired. Many of the series’ minor figures, including Aldon and Roo (Fortune Feimster), another member of Luke’s team, are not only underdeveloped, but also hampered by clunky monologues and exposition dumps that are awkward and distracting. Of FUBAR’s supporting cast, only Milan Carter fits in well as Barry, the nerdy right-hand man to Schwarzenegger’s Luke. Over the course of the series’ first season, the character is saddled with a one-note relationship and numerous jokes that feel like they were pulled straight out of an early 2000s Chuck Lorre comedy, but Carter’s comedic chemistry with Schwarzenegger prevents Barry from ever becoming an annoyance.
Opposite Schwarzenegger, The Last of Us star Gabriel Luna does his best to bring a level of intensity to his performance as FUBAR’s central villain, but his efforts to make Boro intimidating and tragic are ultimately hampered by the show’s inconsistent characterization of him. FUBAR also stretches out Boro’s story to accommodate the demands of its eight-episode first season, which only makes the conflict between him, Emma, and Luke feel increasingly unnecessary and forced.
Its minimal number of set pieces similarly makes the superfluous nature of FUBAR’s many romantic subplots all the more obvious. The series feels simultaneously overstuffed and stretched too thin, and it serves as a reminder that some stories really aren’t meant to be turned into ongoing, episodic adventures. If it had just been a 90-minute action flick that pitted Schwarzenegger’s Luke against his biological daughter and surrogate son, FUBAR could have worked as a perfectly fine and fun B-movie. As it is now, though, FUBAR is yet another overlong Netflix series that manages to lose all of its goodwill long before its season finale cuts to black for the last time.
FUBAR is now available to stream on Netflix. Digital Trends was given early access to all of the first season’s eight episodes.