Review: ‘FUBAR’ exists as appointment viewing for Arnold Schwarzenegger fans, not so much for everybody else
At this stage of his career, the easiest thing in the world for Arnold Schwarzenegger to do in order to remain relevant is be Arnold Schwarzenegger. After all, he’s one of pop culture’s most indelible icons and a walking treasure trove of quips, soundbites, and self-deprecation, so Netflix’s FUBAR was always going to be appointment viewing for a certain demographic.
For better or worse, the series is exactly what everyone is expecting it to be. Effectively a spiritual successor to True Lies, Schwarzenegger and Monica Barbaro star as father/daughter duo Luke and Emma Brunner, who remain blissfully unaware that both of them are top government operatives, at least until the inevitable collision of worlds forces them to team up, reconnect, and save the day by the time all is said and done.
It’s a million miles away from being prestige TV, though, or even being designated worthy of critical acclaim. Anyone who isn’t remotely sold on the Austrian Oak doing all the things we’ve been conditioned to expect him to do over the last 40 years may well detest FUBAR with an unbridled passion, while it’s rarely a good idea for a blockbuster episodic offering to lean so heavily into fan service and nostalgia.
If there was a list of Arnold’s signatures that are obligated to be ticked off, FUBAR runs through them all. Does he wear sunglasses and smoke cigars? Are there gags so cheesy they would have been 10 years too late in the 1990s? Does the star of the show make snappy zingers relating to his advancing years? Is there a reference to a certain form of airborne vehicular transport that’s been the stuff of legend since Predator released all the way back in 1987? Of course there is, and that’s the entire operation in a nutshell.
FUBAR would be running the risk of an unmitigated drubbing were it to feature anyone other than Schwarzenegger in the lead role, although it should definitely be noted the veteran A-lister still has charm and charisma for days, while Barbaro comes remarkably close to stealing the show with a turn that’s both spirited, well-executed, and capable of straddling the delicate line between hagiography and actually driving the narrative forward.
Speaking of said narrative, it doesn’t really matter in the slightest. Ripped from thousands of other spy shows the world over, Gabriel Luna’s one-dimensional villain marks the second time he’s co-starred with the former California governor and been given nothing substantial to chew on following the disastrous Terminator: Dark Fate, while the conspiracy at the center of it all is about as predictable and clumsily-signposted as it gets.
There’s action, intrigue, a plot that twists and turns itself into knots in order to reach a resolution that can be spotted a mile off, and plenty of soap opera-level drama that finds Luke trying to win back his ex-wife, repair his broken family dynamic, save the world, and deal with a nauseating procession of paper-thin pencil-pushers who seem to exist for the sole purpose of spouting technical jargon and standing idly by so they can be used as the butt for Schwarzenegger’s many, many, verbal takedowns.
Not to state the blindingly obvious yet again, but none of that even matters in the grand scheme of things, when there’s one reason and one reason above all why Netflix subscribers are going to watch FUBAR. Anyone who comes to see the inimitable leading man run through his greatest hits will not be left disappointed, and none of the key creatives involved in building or executing the actual storyline seem to care that folks who don’t hold a soft spot for the legendary Terminator figurehead aren’t going to find much worth recommending at all.
There is action, there is comedy, and there is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Those three elements are all that’s needed to sell and market FUBAR to the masses, but the first two are nowhere near as important as the third. He’s still got it, make no mistake about that, but it would have been massively beneficial to the series as a whole had the rest of the moving parts been treated with anywhere near as much reverence and borderline deification as its magnetic lead.
No attempts are made to reinvent the wheel, the tone and pacing are all over the place and occasionally veer wildly off-course from episode to episode, none of the supporting characters manage to leave an impression outside of Barbaro’s Emma, and deliberately placing itself as a throwback only serves to make it feel dated, in spite of the overriding feeling that FUBAR cost an eye-watering amount of money to produce.
It’s either a significant positive or an alarming negative, but precisely zero, nada, nil, squat of those bugbears matter. If you’re a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger; you’re going to love FUBAR. If you’re not, then it won’t do a damn thing to change your mind.
'FUBAR' delivers absolutely everything Arnold Schwarzenegger fans would want to see from the legendary star headlining his first-ever TV series in the action comedy arena, which proves to be both its biggest strength and most glaring weakness.