Master of None co-creator Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard (Superstore, Parks and Rec) have one of the year’s most unexpected comedies on their hands with Amazon’s Forever. The unassuming series stars Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph as Oscar and June, a married couple for whom their otherwise pleasant life together has become more than a little routine. That routine is altered after they opt to do something different for their annual vacation. That decision brings surprising changes, and turns what a modest comedy about the ennui of domestic life into something unexpected.
In many ways, Forever is a rarity in the entertainment industry, in that its marketing hinged almost entirely on the comedic appeal of its two very funny and very charming leads, rather than the concept that’s beneath the surface. That surreptitiousness is almost unheard of in this day and age of trailers giving nearly everything away for anything but the latest puzzle box film or television series produced by J.J. Abrams. But it’s doubly surprising coming from Yang and Hubbard, whose work up until this point hasn’t exactly been prone to twists or explorations into quaint weirdness.
The secrecy surround the actual premise of Forever is, in truth, part of its appeal. Like so many series nowadays, Forever’s idea of what makes a comedy is markedly different from, say, The Big Bang Theory. In that sense, it’s more akin to Yang’s work on Master of None or FX’s Atlanta, both of which are notable more for their digressions in narrative and form than for producing the sort of yucks some might expect from a series selling itself as a half-hour comedy. That’s not to say Forever isn’t funny or doesn’t make the most of its two leads. It definitely delivers in the laughs department, but it’s also not interested in mining every interaction for comedy gold.
Critics who were granted access to the full eight-episode season ahead of time were also given instructions on what could and could not be revealed. The secrecy approaches Mad Men levels in its desire to preserve the purest viewing experience possible, though for the extreme spoiler-phobic merely knowing there are spoilers to be had is enough to send them over the edge, so the idea of where to draw the line remains as nebulous as ever.
Though early reviews aren’t allowed to touch on the events of the first episode or what the rest of the season entails, there’s still plenty to talk about, both in terms of the show's themes, how well it executes them, and just how well Armisen and Rudolph perform as a married couple.
As if the title weren’t hint enough, the show is largely about what it means to be committed to a single person and the habitual pitfalls that develop from such a relationship. The series begins with a endearing montage of Oscar and June’s relationship, from their early first dates to their wedding to where they are when the audience meets them. The montage cleverly takes things just to the edge of becoming cloying, with its soundtrack and shots of Armisen and Rudolph dancing to celebrate June’s inability to bowl. But the cracks soon begin to show, as the montage eventually settles on Oscar serving June the same meal over and over again, making the same silly gestures each time. The only thing that changes is June’s face, which slowly becomes glassy-eyed with indifference. The series ostensibly asks the question: How long can a person wring satisfaction out the same routine?
Forever primarily centers on June’s growing dissatisfaction with Oscar and her feeling trapped and wanting to find and experience new things. But Yang and Hubbard’s approach to June’s domestic discontent — in addition to the surprising plot twists that take the series into some unexpected territory — isn’t as cut and dry as it might seem. June and Oscar enjoy a pleasant enough relationship, one that affords the writers the opportunity to have their actors fire off droll banter at one another and seek answers to questions like “What’s the best way to sit?” As a result, Armisen and Rudolph are able to slip into a comfortable comedic rhythm that smartly underlines the degree to which these two people — though they might still love one another — have completely run out of things to say to one another.
That sort of comedy carries through the entire season, with Armisen delivering a one of a kind performance that helps match the series’ willingness to go to some very weird places. Meanwhile, Rudolph grounds the comedy in June’s relatable desires and her humanity. In a sense, she has the tougher job of the two, as she’s asked to vacillate her performance between handling witty banter and delivering moments that are more plaintive than you might expect from a high-concept comedy.
Nevertheless, even once the series reveals its true premise, Forever still manages to keep things interesting, mainly by introducing new characters at key intervals, like Mark (Noah Robbins), the foulmouthed but secretly insecure teenager, and Kase (Catherine Keener), June and Oscar’s intriguing new neighbor. Thankfully, Forever turns out to be a series that adds up to a lot more than its twisty conceit, and it manages to find some fascinatingly human moments were it not for some smart writing and its endearing lead performances.
Forever season 1 will stream on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, September 14.