Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched the first season of “Forever,” which dropped in its entirety September 14 on Amazon.Though its first episode tries hard to convince us otherwise, there’s really no way to talk about “Forever” without talking about its capital t Twist.
The premiere of Matt Hubbard and Alan Yang’s new comedy does its damndest to lure the audience into a false sense of security, following married couple June (Maya Rudolph) and Oscar (Fred Armisen) through both the biggest milestones of their relationship and the many banal moments in between. June and Oscar’s lives are perfectly pleasant, but as June realizes with growing discomfort, they could also be described as aggressively banal. Their mutual love and comfort with each other slides into a mind-numbing plateau where tradition calcifies into excuses to never grow or change. For a while — and for longer than is frankly necessary — “Forever” sells itself as a straight up two-hander marriage comedy.
But then, right after June finally screws up the courage to voice her dissatisfaction, Oscar skis into a tree and dies.
Throughout the entire second episode, it seems as though June trying to grapple with her husband’s death is going to be the show’s trajectory. I’ll admit that I was ready for that version of the show, if only because Rudolph is great and deserves a starring vehicle that lets her show it off. (And the second episode is indeed, largely thanks to her and Kym Whitley as her best friend, very good.) But right as June finally picks herself up to become the person she always thought she might be, she dies — and that’s where the show truly starts. June wakes up in a cute neighborhood to the ecstatic face of Oscar, who can’t believe his luck that they can be dead together…forever.
From there, the show tries to combine the more typical tropes of a marriage sitcom with the more supernatural ones it introduces with this higher concept twist, to muddled effect. It’s not a great sign that it takes two full episodes to get the show where it needs to be in order to fully be itself, especially given that the first season is only eight episodes in total. Nor is it awesome that, after watching all eight, “Forever” is more confusing than not.
On the one hand, it’s exactly the marriage comedy that it initially portrays itself as. Even in death, Oscar and June find themselves right back where they left off: stuck in a routine that he loves and she increasingly hates. Rudolph is very good at conveying June’s growing frustration, especially once she gets inspired to make a real change once Catherine Keener’s Case — a charismatic misanthrope who wants to use her death as an opportunity to actually live for once — moves in next door. The show sometimes leans on the idea that people have about the same problems in the afterlife as they did on earth too hard, though in fairness, that thread is also its strongest. June and Case’s reluctance to accept a monotonous eternity versus Oscar’s insistence that there’s nothing wrong with finding and sticking to a comfortable routine is, after all, a bluntly effective metaphor for a marriage trope that TV and film have depicted since…well, forever.
But where the show really stumbles is in shading out the fantastical elements of that premise. “Forever” demonstrates just enough interest in establishing a mythology that it will throw in a couple sporadic, disparate details about the afterlife (or whatever it’s supposed to be — that’s never quite cleared up). Oscar’s new best friend Mark (Noah Robbins), for instance, died in the ’70s when he was a teenager, meaning that he’s been stuck in perpetual adolescence ever since. (A true nightmare.) The dead call living people “currents,” and can haunt them by causing electrical failures and toppling objects if they concentrate hard enough. Sometimes, they can even drain a current’s energy in order to boost their own, because if the dead wander too far from a water source, they start to fade.
So it’s not as if the minds behind “Forever” didn’t consider what it means to create its own afterlife mythology. Unfortunately, these hints feel more random than anything else. What makes a show like “The Good Place” — which actually shares some writers with the “Forever” staff — work is that it’s meticulous about its world. Everything is in place for a reason. On “Forever,” each new afterlife rule feels like it’s there just for the sake of it. If the show comes back for another season, it would be so much stronger for figuring out exactly what makes its version of the world truly its own.
Comedy, 30 mins. (All 8 episodes watched for review.) Premieres Friday, September 14 on Amazon Prime.
Cast: Maya Rudolph, Fred Armisen, Catherine Keener, Noah Robbins and Kym Whitley.
Crew: Executive producers: Alan Yang, Matt Hubbard, Tim Sarkes, Dave Becky, Maya Rudolph, Fred Armisen.