Amazon’s Forever reinvents itself multiples times within just its first 2 episodes. Where it ends is drastically different than where it begins. That makes it a maddeningly challenging show to discuss. However, that’s a challenge worth taking because, dammit, I’m dying to talk to someone about this.
We are currently living in the era of, as The Atlantic put it, “genreless television.” Traditional comedies and dramas still dot the broadcast landscape, but across the cable and streaming dial, well, there be genre monsters there. Darkly funny comedies with streaks of bleak drama (Atlanta, Barry, Baskets, Better Things, The Last Man on Earth, The End of the F***ing World). Prestige dramas which turn into satires (Succession). Experimental, rule-breaking sketch comedy and stand up specials (Random Acts of Flyness, Nanette). Animation which at once seems traditionaly zany but quickly turns super existential (Animals, BoJack Horseman, Rick & Morty).
What’s Forever About?
Forever, Amazon’s new series from Alan Yang and 30 Rock alum Matt Hubbard, falls squarely within this new tradition. It stars old SNL castmates Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen as June and Oscar, a fortysomething, upper middle class married couple in need of a change. Where that wanderlust leads them takes just two episodes to arrive but is such a game-changing, premise-altering switch that it’s impossible to go any further without spoiling the fun.
No, what is it really about?
Even without that bit of spoiler-aversion, Forever is a difficult show to discuss because it repeatedly blurs the line between comedy and drama. The pilot has a moment as broadly funny as June and Oscar letting loose a stream of expletives when faced with the harsh, mountain winds accompanying their impromptu ski adventure (“How are children out in this weather? Their parents should be put in jail!”) but then the sixth episode is devoted to chronicling the entire tortured romantic history of two star-crossed realtors (Hong Chau and Jason Mitchell) we’ve never seen before or will never see again (it makes sense in context).
The best comp, then, might just be Yang’s prior series, Master of None, which is similarly notorious for its tonal swerves and willingness to devote entire half-hours to previously underserved or unseen characters. However, whereas Master of None is primarily concerned with the immigrant experience and plight of New York singles in the 21st century Forever is far more preoccupied with the larger questions of life, challenges of marriage and, as per the title, whether true love lasts forever.
The pilot announces this theme immediately, giving us a rolling screen montage of Oscar and June’s courtship, marriage, wildly happy early years, and quietly unhappy later years. Yang, who directed half of the season’s 8 episodes, makes especially clever use of a summer lake house to chronicle the couple’s transition into what Eternal Sunshine once called “the dining dead.” June, who once genuinely enjoyed their trips there, continues to fake smile in response to Oscar’s every meticulously prepared meal, and he continues to smile back, either oblivious to her obvious despair or too afraid to address it.
Are you seriously not going to spoil anything?
As masterfully put together as this opening is, it also promises a different show than Forever ends up delivering. This is not going to be a Happyish-esque series about mid-life dread, marital decay, and existential musings on the larger meaning of life. Well, it is…but not at all in the way you’re expecting. Where Forever runs with those themes is surprising, compelling, at times dryly funny, at other times soul-crushing, and largely similar to, but crucially different from certain other shows which I can’t name for fear of spoiling by association.
Fine. Tell me about the cast.
All of this formal experimentation wouldn’t mean anything, of course, without the right cast. Armisen and Rudolph are thankfully up to the task, quite believably portraying a couple who have settled into friendship instead of romance but are still completely comfortably together. Armisen plays Oscar like “Walter Mitty without the capacity to fantasize,” as Jen Chaney put it, while Rudolph lends June a quiet desperation which is sure to break out in surprising ways. If there’s an imbalance it’s that Rudolph ends up performing the lionshare of the dramatic heavy lifting throughout the season.
There is a supporting cast of colorful side characters, headed by Catherine Keener, Peter Weller, and Noah Robbins, who leave us wanting more, but who also can’t be discussed in any real detail since they all arrive after the premise-altering switch. I’ll simply add that Robbins gets to engage in the most delightfully doofy, kind of awkward, but completely natural and joyous dance to 70s rock records I’ve ever seen.
Make your closing argument.
Because of all the necessary secrecy – I swear, the series is so much better if experienced as a surprise – and also because this is on Amazon, not Netflix, I fear most viewers will simply ignore Forever or that it won’t fall on enough radars to at least earn the same amount of critical love as the Emmy-winning Master of None. If so, that would be a shame. Like many other shows in this current era, Forever’s approach to its genre-bending material will make you laugh and cry in equal measure, and it’s another masterful work from Alan Yang. You won’t be able to stop watching, even as the twists and turns are sometimes less plot-based and more emotional gut punches, and what begins as a familiar spin on mid-life ennui detours into something far more satisfying.
Plus, it’s bingeable in just under 4 hours. Just saying.
What about you? Have you watched any of Forever yet? Still on the fence? Or had you never even heard of it until now? Let me know in the comments.
Forever is available to stream on Amazon Prime right now.