The Pitch: Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a tough, grizzled secret agent who hops around the globe, taking down bad guys and saving the world — all while his suburban family is none the wiser. Yes, that’s the plot of True Lies, but it’s also the plot of Netflix’s FUBAR, Arnold’s first time as the lead of a television show (at 75!). Here, he plays the 65-year-old (sure) Luke Brunner, whose civilian cover is running a boutique gym equipment store with his ex-wife Tally (Fabiana Udenio) when he’s not swanning off to punch more terrorists in the face.
But his own double life gets a huge reality check when, on his latest mission to stop a South American drug lord (Gabriel Luna), he discovers that his estranged twentysomething daughter Emma (Top Gun: Maverick’s Monica Barbaro) is also on that mission, and it turns out she’s been a CIA agent this whole time too! The shock!
With their respective covers blown, they’re forced to finally work together and hash out their professional and personal issues — all while figuring out how to keep their superspy lives a secret from their loved ones.
Leverage-ing Arnold’s Star Power: There’s something innately charming, and yet deeply cynical, about the concept of ol’ Arnie coming back to TV for a retread of the kind of work he made his nut on in the ’80s and ’90s. In his post-Governatorial career, Schwarzenegger has tried mightily to return to the movie-star fold (Terminator: Dark Fate, the Expendables series) and stretch his legs as a dramatic actor (Maggie). But most recently, he’s leaned into the kind of cheeky meta-humor nature of his own casting. In this respect, FUBAR feels not unlike the execrable Taran Killam vehicle Killing Gunther — a milquetoast comedy whose entire premise hinges on audiences saying, “Hey, that’s Arnold! Doing Arnold stuff! I remember that!”
But the “True Lies, but what if a father and daughter are both the spy?” premise holds some promise, and to be fair the show’s most effective moments come when Schwarzenegger and Barbaro get to explore this in depth. At its heart, FUBAR is a show about a distant father realizing his daughter’s going down the same flawed path he is, and trying to keep her from making the same mistakes. That stuff’s fairly interesting, and the pair have some solid chemistry when they get to sit down and talk about how the allure of their exciting secret lives can pull them away from the people they love the most.
To be fair to the former Mr. Universe, he’s giving it as much as he can at his advanced age. His Luke Brunner is hardly the beefy superman of Commando and Predator; the show’s modest budget doesn’t hide the seams between Arnold and his army of stunt doubles very aptly. But let’s see you dive behind crates while shooting pistols when you hit your golden years!
And blessedly, he comes out smelling the freshest when deploying the creaky jokes creator Nick Santora (Scorpion, Reacher) and the writers plop in our characters’ mouths. There’s something bittersweet about the way age has cured and matured Arnold as an actor; he’s genuinely charming in spots here, and he does his most impressive heavy lifting when the show stops to consider the ethics of both Brunners’ double lives. (His winks at his own career are intermittently charming too, though having him refer to himself as a “choppah parent” is enough to make your eyes roll.)
Fortune Favors the Bold: Despite its brief as a throwback action-comedy, FUBAR excels at neither action nor comedy. By the looks of it, the show has the budget of a Funny or Die sketch, with little grace or artistry applied to the flat, TV cinematography, or the shoestring action scenes. Get ready for rivulets of After-Effects CG blood and chintzy muzzle flashes, and uninspiring camerawork that does little to obscure the limited fight choreography that exists. Sure, Arnold was never the lithest action star, but the show’s look doesn’t do him, or his younger co-stars, many favors.
But that’s nothing compared to the show’s humor, the episodes peppered with repetitive gags that grow less funny the more insistent the show becomes on them. Team member (and all-around chaos agent) Roo (Fortune Feimster) builds a team in-joke around using the word “fluffing” instead of the f-word; hacker Barry (Milan Carter) is the very picture of the stereotypical TV Black nerd, right down to peppering virtually every line with obvious comic book or nerd-culture references.
Travis Van Winkle’s ladies’-man Aldon Reese comes out smelling the nicest, mostly because his embrace of the itinerant spy lifestyle proves a welcome temptation for Emma, herself desperate to escape the doldrums of her own engagement to dweeby dope Carter (Jay Baruchel, way overqualified for a show like this). And don’t forget Scott Thompson, a dyed-in-the-wool Kid in the Hall, stuck playing an uptight psychiatrist named Dr. Pfeffer, which the crew oh-so-hilariously refers to as “Dr. Pepper.” Most jokes land with a resounding thud, occasionally saved only by the iron will of our cast’s charisma.
The Running (Time) Man: Perhaps Arnold’s greatest nemesis, more than nuke-wielding villains and the ongoing specter of his character’s personal failings, is FUBAR’s absolutely punishing runtime. Santora et al. struggle to stretch this thin story over nearly eight hours of television, which leads to a lot of place-setting and reams of screentime dedicated to one unfunny gag or go-nowhere subplot after another.
Episodes are dedicated to Luke and Emma using espionage tactics to help solve their infant nephew’s bone marrow disorder. There are at least two entire subplots involving Luke and Emma using their current undercover mission — infiltrating a poker game, “honeypotting” a target to extract information — to ruminate on the big and small betrayals they commit against their loved ones. And the home-life half of the series is filled with such damp-squib supporting players that none of it feels particularly interesting to sit through.
The Verdict: FUBAR feels like the network-friendly cousin of Paramount+’s Tulsa King; where the latter show sees the seventy-something Sylvester Stallone reinventing himself as a towering character actor in a prestige-laden streaming series, the Governator is digging down deep into the crowd-pleasing hits. And indeed, Arnold fans may find a lot of fun in the nostalgia soup of FUBAR, a show that does its level best to go down easy and throw a few member berries into our mouths.
But at eight punishing hours, all of them stuffed with lukewarm melodrama and tepid, repetitive jokes, FUBAR may make you want to go AWOL from your Netflix subscription. (Considering they’re already going to start charging you almost a full subscription for password sharing, that day may be ever closer.) The show’s final minutes set up a second season that might upend the status quo in an amiable way, but who’s going to stick around to see it?
Where’s It Playing? FUBAR is currently streaming on Netflix.