What’s the Show? Forever (2018)
What’s It All About, JG? Well, that’s a tricky one. Actually, it’s not all that tricky but this is definitely a show that benefits from knowing as little as possible about it going in and then allowing yourself to be surprised by it. It is, though, a lightly comic drama about relationships and what happens to them, though again saying more is straying into spoiler territory. Spoilers definitely wouldn’t ruin the show (and I’m normally fine with casting spoilers about aplenty) yet at the same time there’s definitely a pleasure to be had from seeing a show start going in one particular direction and then seeing what it develops into. But this isn’t getting us anywhere, so let’s get the basics out of the way.
Oscar (Fred Armisen) and June (Maya Rudolph) live a nice life together. It’s not, y’know, exciting or anything but it’s nice, white, middle-class and predictable. After a decision to avoid going to a lakeside cabin for their vacation, they instead end up at a ski resort. Oscar, being spectacularly bad at skiing to the point of being outclassed by 12-year-olds, has an accident and dies. This is, in point of fact, the beginning rather than the end of his problems, while June has to cope with the absence that’s suddenly arrived in her life right up until she encounters a rather significant problem of her own.
And that’s where I shall choose to leave things. Just watch the show.
Why Did You Give It A Go? Because my other half had seen it and told me to watch it because it’s really good. And I listened.
Is It Any Good? It’s very low-key but it’s absolutely brilliant, in fact. If there’s a word that’s constantly hovering over Forever it’s “ennui”. The whole series is a quietly powerful meditation of ennui, of relationships that seem happy but which lack something due to a lack of honesty, and of what is wrought from that. It’s also a surprisingly powerful meditation on the power that love has and how that love can be expressed in a multiplicity of ways aside from the usual meet-cutes and hearts-and-fl0wers set-ups that a more conventional show would lean into. I mean, there is the meet-cute in the first episode but it’s scored to slow, thoughtful jazz and is far, far away from the usual rom-com cliches.
What makes the show work is its genuinely unique approach to the subjects at hand. There are plenty of shows about relationships that aren’t going anywhere or about the importance of honesty but Forever really does have a unique take on things. The dog-leg the show takes at the end of the first episode, with Oscar’s death, suggests that it’s going to be a show about loss and longing, and while it does touch on those subjects that’s absolutely not what the show ends up being about. It’s the dog-leg at the end of the second episode and what spirals out from that which really points in the direction things are going to go in.
The second episode is, in fact, a masterclass of misdirection. It looks for all the world like we’re going to be visiting Classic Sit-Com Land, with a sassy best friend who just wants the best for Our Heroine, an awkward meeting with a priest, an unexpected dream job, and the awakening of new desires in June… then the show turns out to not go down that road at all. It’s incredibly skilled and the cast, who are universally fantastic, lean into all the right beats before the rug is effectively pulled.
The rest of the series explores just what the relationship between Oscar and June meant and though there aren’t any other ta-da moments on quite that scale it is, in taking a different tack, even more effective. It’s rare to see writing which can carry off such a profound shift in tone and style as Forever and when the chance does come along to appreciate it, it really should be savoured. And that’s exactly what Forever should be. Savoured.
How Many Of These Did You Watch? The series is eight episodes long and is on Amazon Prime. I’ve watched all eight episodes. It’s worth mentioning, as well, that eight episodes are exactly the right length for the series. Any fewer and it wouldn’t have the chance to explore its topics thoroughly. And more and it would end up being wheel-spinning and undermine its sense of effectiveness. What we have is judged perfectly.
Would You Recommend It? Without a shadow of a doubt. I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a show that was this effective. It’s funny when it needs to be but this isn’t a straight comedy. Its drama rests not on Big Dramatic Moments (that episode two dog-leg aside) but rather on the quiet desperation of longing, loss, regret, and discovery.
The show entirely and completely understands who their characters are and why they work in the way they do. In this, the casting of Fred Armisen as Oscar and Maya Rudolph as June is an absolute masterstroke. Both inhabit their characters in ways that seem to go far beyond simple performance and there’s an honesty and conviction to the way they’re played that belies what, on paper, seems like fairly archetypical character traits. A slightly bored wife who’s comfortable but misses something. A kind but essentially dull husband who has a bit of a blind spot when it comes to understanding his wife’s true needs. But it’s in the margins of these characters that the roles flourish and there are as well-written a couple as you will find on television.
The supporting cast helps a lot too. As the prickly next-door-neighbour, Catherine Keener’s Kase also sounds like a straight-off-the-shelf archetype but the friendship she eventually develops with June and the yearning for female company and understanding that grows between them has a realness to it that once again belies what might otherwise be a simple sitcom trope. As the bratty teenage Mark, Noah Robbins isn’t quite as well drawn but he’s mostly there to provide some levity (and filth) to keep Oscar on his toes, and in this, he succeeds admirably. The other few characters we have all simply feel real and the verisimilitude of the town and people around Oscar and June give real shape to who they are, over and above their own problems. It’s a perfect case of supporting roles adding to the whole and indeed making the whole more than the sum of its parts.
The production, too, is an absolute triumph. Suburbia has never looked quite so, well, suburban than when Oscar and June are around. The setting does a lot of work to make their situation seem convincing and greatly adds to their sense of reality. The music, too, is incredibly well-chosen and lends a keening, melancholic air to proceedings that never becomes overbearing or self-indulgent. The choices made are, at every turn, intelligent, considered, and thoughtful. It’s a delight to see a TV show take this much care over something like the music choices.
When it comes down to it, there’s just about nothing to fault here. While it’s easy to wish there was more to explore of Oscar and June’s world, that sense of wanting more is exactly why the show is as good as it is. The ending is profoundly ambiguous in one sense but in another, it’s also the conclusion the show deserves, with both characters exactly where they should be. It’s heartfelt and emotional without being overwrought or overly written. That ending alone would be a huge success. With the eight episodes that preceded it, it’s positively transcendent.
Scores On The Doors? 9.5/10