Last week, I attempted to review Amazon’s Forever despite a pretty exhaustive Do Not Reveal list from the show’s creators, Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard. All eight episodes of the first season are available now, so if you’ve watched it and want to think more about it — or if you’re pressed for time in Peak TV and want to know what the darned show’s actually about before deciding to commit — I have full spoilers for the entire season coming up just as soon as I get you a new trout calendar…
So, what is Forever about, anyway?
Perhaps it’s best to think of it as an alternate version of The Good Place (whose creator, Mike Schur, has frequently worked with Yang), presenting a vision of the afterlife with fewer rules or explanations, but also fewer jokes.
The short version: Fred Armisen’s Oscar dies at the end of the first episode in a skiing accident. Maya Rudolph’s June spends the second episode grieving for him and trying to move on with her life, before choking to death on macadamia nuts on her way to start her life over in Hawaii, and wakes up in the afterlife with Oscar looking over her. They are in some kind of metaphysical suburb, with no real instructions (other than that they can’t travel too far from a fountain, or they’ll vanish), but also no real activities or goals.
June, who had been growing frustrated with her marriage before Oscar plotzed into a tree, isn’t thrilled to be reunited with him, particularly once she realizes her new reality as a “Former” is just as random and dull as her time as a living “Current.”
“I mean, what’s the point of all this?” she asks Oscar.
“Well, what was the point of the thing before this?” he replies.
It’s a pointed deconstruction of the idea of eternal life in a world beyond this one. As a young-ish couple who died within a year of one another, Oscar and June at least get to be quickly reunited in this new place, where all of their neighbors are single. The only two others who even know each other are former high school classmates Mark (Noah Robbins), who died as a teenager, and Heather (Nancy Lenehan), who lived a long and full life with a husband and children. He still has a crush on her despite the age gap, and they have a date of sorts, but it’s too hard for them to connect because of all the time that passed in between their demises. If this isn’t the Bad Place, it doesn’t feel too far off: a forced loop of events and even furniture that neither June nor her new neighbor Kase (Catherine Keener) can do anything to change.
Even June and Kase’s trip to another community nearby called Oceanside proves no more satisfying. The Formers there (played by, among others, Obba Babatundé and Julia Ormond) and are living it up in a hotel on the beach, boasting of how they’ve let go of the lives they lived as Currents. This sounds good to Kase, whose life was unhappy, but not to June, who has mixed feelings at worst about Oscar and everything else in her past. Living forever in an exact recreation of your marriage feels pointless, but so does an afterlife where you have no memory of who you were and what you did in this world.
So why doesn’t it work?
Yang, Hubbard and company are raising interesting questions about spirituality, but also about marriage and the idea of pledging to love any one person forever and ever. There’s a potentially great show here and some standout moments even within otherwise flawed ones (Mark and Heather’s “date”; the largely standalone episode “Andre and Sarah,” about two realtors who wait too long to be together; the visuals of June and Oscar walking along the floor of the ocean together), but it never quite clicks for a few reasons.
First, as I noted last week, Armisen is miscast. He and Rudolph have so much history together that they should be believable as a couple, and their chemistry is abundant in the scenes where the two banter and argue about the perfect food to eat at the beach. But the rest of the time, he seems so disconnected from both her and even modern life itself that it’s hard to imagine they made it so long together as a couple, even if we’re meeting them right when things fell apart. The season’s later episodes hang on Oscar’s desire to win June back and June’s own complicated attitude towards her husband, and the emotions of it feel as elusive as the question of who’s running this afterlife and what it’s for.
Second, it’s not funny enough. It’s often not really trying to be, but the quirky and bittersweet tone of the story is hard to maintain across this many episodes without more jokes to punctuate them. Master of None, which Yang co-created with Aziz Ansari, is often just as light on gags, but each episode tells enough of a self-contained and satisfying story that this doesn’t matter. (Not coincidentally, the episode about June’s grief and confusion following Oscar’s death, and the one about Andre and Sarah, are by far the most satisfying.) There’s a degree to which we have to grow a little bored with the afterlife ourselves to fully empathize with June’s unexpected plight, but that could have been accomplished in half the time, or there should have been more odd diversions from it.
The season ends with June and Oscar arriving on the shores of another community, having walked the width of an ocean to escape their two previous communities. We don’t see where they end up, but if Amazon’s going to order another season, let’s hope it’s a livelier place than the ones they left behind.
What exactly was in the Do Not Reveal list?
There are eight items in all, but only three that really matter, since you wouldn’t touch on the rest if you hadn’t already revealed the first three. Quoting directly from the list:
* Oscar’s death at the end of 101
* June’s death at the end of 102
* The majority of the show takes place in the afterlife
* Catherine Keener’s character Kase is also dead
* Kase and June start haunting and “juicing” the living
* Any reference to “The Traveler,” which is Peter Weller’s character
* In the “Andre and Sarah” episode, June is observing them as a Former
* June eventually leaves Oscar to travel to the Former community of Oceanside
What did everybody else think?