TV Reviews

Forever Review: Amazon Delivers a Masterful Reflection on Life, Marriage, and [Spoiler]

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?

From their courtship phase: The dancing is because she just threw another gutter ball and they’re celebrating her ineptitutde. Just off-screen is a serious-faced Asian man holding a bowling ball and shaking his head in confusion

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.

Marriage, the early years
Marriage, the later years

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.

Noah Robbins steals scenes as Armisen’s bizarre buddy

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.

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5 comments

  1. Just finished the season and I agree with everything you say. Absolutely adore this show, especially episode 6.

    I was wondering whether you think there should be a Season 2? I’ve been going back and forth and, while I would love to see more of the world and some kind of explanation for Peter Weller’s character, I also think I got enough closure that going back would be an exercise in futility.

    1. First, thanks for reading and commenting. As I said, it’s the type of show you really want to talk about once you’ve experienced its various premise-altering twists and through-provoking storytelling.

      Second, so glad you liked the show as much as I did. I feel like Forever is still a show mostly known by TV critics and the hardest of the hardcore pop culture aficionados. Flying under the radar.

      Third, the question of whether they should go on or just call it quits is an interesting one. It’s also possibly a larger one than you probably intended. This is actually a crisis facing lots of shows these days. Not all of them are like Forever, which does actually end with closure, but they are the same in that these days the hard part is launching your show and getting people to pay attention. Because, you know, PeakTV. But, the really, really hard part is getting those people to actually come back for a second season because no matter how good your show was it was almost universally binged over a weekend. So, when the second season rolls around your audience will already have experienced countless other binges by then AND they might not een remember your show all that well anymore.

      Basically, in the age of PeakTV, there’s always some new sexy choice that some pocket of friends on the internet or raving about together. It’s getting them to sustain that interest which can be challenging, kind of like how the Golden Globes love to the Kingmaker with the hot new drama or comedy but then typically forget all about the next year because there’s something to crown. Thus, publications like THR have looked into this and found that a lot of streaming shows fail to generate as much social media engagement the second time around. Obvious exceptions, of course. But, still, did anyone watch Sneaky Pete’s second season?

      What’s partially contributing to this is not just on us, but also on the creators, who are increasingly former movie people who’ve flocked to TV since Hollywood gave up on the old way of doing things. So, you have lots of movie people making shows and touting them as “10 episode movies,” which is great if that’s all it really is, like Maniac, but what do you do for a sequel?

      That’s what Forever feels like to me. I know it’s not, since its’ creators actually came from Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, and Master of None, but it feels like its story is over. There are other questions out there in the show’s universe, but the central metaphor of using the afterlife to finally give these two characters some actual life and brave new path forward in their relationship is over. Everything after this is just for the continued pleasure of being in their company, and will probably turn into a Last Man on Earth-style journey where they simply go to a new place each season and pick up new co-stars along the way. I’m cool with watching them do that, but the purest expression of this show has probably already been told.

      Here’s what Yang told THR about a possible season 2:

      “I thought that underwater stuff turned out great. Maya and Fred’s performance in that last scene on the beach is great — just the look on their faces as they walk toward the camera and walk past us. To me it’s a fulfillment of the first frame of the series, but also we do have some ideas if and when we’d like to do a season two. Because anything could happen at that point, and I think that’s exciting. They’ve clearly resolved some sort of issue in their relationship, but I think there’s still story left to be told.”

      https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/forever-finale-explained-alan-yang-talks-big-twist-potential-season-2-1143503

  2. Yeah, I’ve been having a hard time recommending Forever to anyone. First thing everyone asks is “What is it about?” Having to say it’s about a married couple that don’t get along, BUT there’s so much more to it AND it needs to be watched knowing as little as possible… Well, my friends and colleagues aren’t exactly chomping at the bit.

    Having thought about it, I suppose I have to admit that this should be the end of Oscar and June’s journey. Better to have a proper emotional finish, as opposed to the never-ending story disaster that The Walking Dead has become.

    I read the Hollywood Reporter article, and despite what Yang says, perhaps a better approach would be to take a leaf from American Crime Story, True Detective or Black Mirror. Different stories in different locations, but all exploring the concept of love, loss and the afterlife from different angles.

    For example, one character that really stood out to me was Josiah, the little boy who has been in the neighbourhood the longest. What happens when his parents finally join him? Or his brothers or sisters? Oscar and June were pretty “lucky” as there was only a year gap between their departures. But what if it was years? Decades?

    To be fair, the show does touch upon this with the Mark and Heather characters, but since Season One focused exclusively on the relationships between couples/two person relationships, I would dearly like to see a more familial-based storyline in the future. After all, how do you adapt to being reintroduced to your own flesh and blood, but you no longer have any real emotional connection to them?

    Whatever the choice, I’m definitely coming back for Season 2.

    1. “Yeah, I’ve been having a hard time recommending Forever to anyone. ”

      Same here. Including you and my best friend, I’ve only converted two so far, that I know of at least (and maybe I shouldn’t actually assume I’m the one who convinced you to watch it). In the age of PeakTV, when your pitch is “it’s so good, but I can’t really tell you why without spoiling” you’re immediately winnowing down your audience, I’d say.

      I endorse your idea for a second season which revisits this little universe and premise, but not necessarily the same characters. My pitch would be to start a new season in an entirely different section of the world and focus on characters who’ve been there a long time. Then, suddenly, members of their family show up, having sadly died. That’s an interesting conflict/reunion to explore. Then, maybe halfway through the season, this family crosses paths with Oscar and June.

      Whatever they do, I’ll be interested.

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