Fubar Review | Definitely Not “Beyond All Recognition”

by Andrew Parker

Mildly amusing, but never particularly special or distinguished, Fubar feels like a series that would be more at home on basic cable or network television than on Netflix. A standard spy action-comedy romp in the same vein as Burn Notice, Scorpion, or True Lies, Fubar (not to be confused with the hoser comedy classic of the same name) boasts considerable star power in the form of Arnold Schwarzenegger – marking his first regular appearance in a series – but not much else here is raising the bar. Slavishly adherent to formula, but not in an altogether negative way, Fubar is a crowd pleaser hits a sweet spot, but comes across as out of time and irrelevant in most other respects.

Luke Brunner (Schwarzenegger) is a 65-year old CIA agent on the verge of retirement. After completing his last job in Antwerp, Luke is looking forward to nothing more than celebrating his the birthday of his adult, eco-crusading daughter, Emma (Monica Barbaro), buying a pleasure craft he can sail the seas with, and winning back the wife who divorced him (Fabiana Udenio) years earlier. But Luke’s boss (Barbara Eve Harris) comes bearing bad news delivered from the highest levels of the US government. Boro (Gabriel Luna), the son of a notorious arms dealer that was killed by Luke, has decided to pick up where his dad left off, and is looking to unload a nuclear WMD that fits inside of a suitcase.  Boro had a closeness to Luke as a child and only knows the agent by his cover identity. Luke not only has to travel to Guyana to thwart Boro’s plans, but to also exfiltrate a fellow operative whose cover is on the verge of being blown. That operative turns out to be his own daughter, who has secretly followed in her old man’s footsteps and is not too happy to see him.

Fubar, created by action television veteran Nick Santora (Prison Break, Reacher, the aforementioned Scorpion), boasts a lot of familiar action-comedy beats that won’t surprise anyone familiar with the genre. It’s the sort of series that never met a cliche it didn’t like. Father and daughter constantly bicker without realizing they’re more alike than they care to admit. Dad doesn’t want his daughter to make the same mistakes. Daughter is engaged to a really nice, ordinary guy (Jay Baruchel, weirdly playing maybe the sixth or seventh most important character in this story), and dad is worried that their relationship will end up just like the one he had with her mother. The ex-wife is dating a dope (Andy Buckley) that Luke can’t stand. Said dope is constantly tailed and surveilled by lovesick Luke using misappropriated department resources. Luke and Emma will be forced to work together, and have to agree to see a therapist (Scott Thompson). Luke and Emma work with a mismatched team of of professional misfits: a nerdy tech guy (Milan Carter), an NSA advisor (Aparna Brielle) on loan that the nerdy guy has a crush on, a hunky dude (Travis Van Winkle), and a sarcastic, trigger happy hothead with a heart of gold (Fortune Feimster). Every episode requires the team to go on mini-missions that get them closer to their ultimate objective, and there are plenty of B-stories where the characters have to iron out their messy personal lives. Rinse and repeat across eight episodes, and that’s Fubar in a nutshell. 

It’s curious timing that Fubar comes hot on the heels of a Schwarzenegger-free network adaptation of True Lies making its way to living room screens. Fubar has a storyline about secret agents lying to family members with deep consequences that’s reminiscent of James Cameron’s original film (right down to a welcome, but not altogether surprising cameo from one of that movie’s stars as a mild mannered master of torture techniques). Similarly, the current network revival of True Lies is overseen by Matt Nix, the creator of Burn Notice, the series that Fubar is even more deeply indebted to in terms of structure and substance. Fubar is packed to bursting with pandering jokes and references and sitcom level banter, and outside of being able to curse and occasionally shed a bit of blood, there’s nothing to set Santora’s work apart from the other shows its so clearly imitating. It also looks noticeably cheaper when it comes to set pieces than most of its contemporaries, too.

Fubar dutifully goes through the motions and fills every episode with no more or less than what is absolutely needed to keep things chugging along. Story twists and character squabbles arrive precisely on cue, offering little in the way of surprise for anyone familiar with the genre. At first, the results are underwhelming, but once one realizes that that Santora’s team isn’t going to deviate from any sort of established formulas or conventions, Fubar becomes more easily watchable as turn-off-your-brain fun. It’s so far from reinventing the wheel that Fubar is more like a spare tire that’s been sitting in the trunk for decades. But it’s still a reliable spare, with Fubar emerging somewhat surprisingly as one of Netflix’s stronger action offerings in spite of an overall lack of originality and ingenuity.

The cast of Fubar helps make the show more effortlessly likeable, even if Schwarzenegger and Barbaro are playing characters that are often hard to sympathize with. Everyone is a good sport and is given ample time to shine physically, dramatically, and comedically. Schwarzenegger does what he does best. Barbaro does most of the heavy lifting and is giving all she has to deliver a star making turn overall. Carter, Winkle, Brielle, and especially Feimster make for a solid, banter-ific team of friends and co-workers, each of them giving back as much as they take. Baruchel and Thompson are welcome sights whenever they orbit back into the storyline, with the former playing against his usual type and not being used as comedic relief much of the time. The cast is selling the material more than Santora’s material is selling itself.

The word that best describes Fubar is familiar, but if that’s what a viewer wants, they could do a lot worse than this. It might only be a step or two above pleasing background noise, but Fubar does well enough to get by, outside of an abrupt, ill advised tearjerking subplot that’s introduced around the halfway point before being dropped almost as quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fubar was pitched first to mainstream network executives first, and that they balked at the idea of hiring someone as pricey as Schwarzenegger for the lead role. It’s not prestige TV in any way. It’s regular TV on a streaming service. And that’s just fine.

Fubar streams on Netflix starting Thursday, May 25, 2023.

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