Entertainment

How the Big Twist in Amazon's 'Forever' Sets Up the Rest of the Show

forever
Amazon

This story contains spoilers for Amazon Prime's Forever.

Judging from the trailer for Amazon's new series, Forever, the Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen show seems to be about marriage -- and it is. But there's a major twist that comes early on, shaping the entire course of the story. In the premiere, Oscar (Armisen) is killed when he runs into a tree while skiing. In the following episode, his wife June (Rudolph) follows suit, choking on a macadamia nut. When she awakes, she's in the afterlife, which is where the rest of the show takes place.

In some ways, the series from Master of None's Alan Yang and 30 Rock's Matt Hubbard remains very much the same as it did in the pilot. That introduction establishes that there's something afoot between these two people. For years, Oscar and June have been stuck in the same routines, illustrated artfully in an opening montage. She suggests that they change things up by going skiing instead of heading to the lake house where they always vacation. That's where Oscar bites the dust.

The next installment picks up about a year later. June is in a different rut -- mourning has replaced her ennui, but she lucks into a new job that will take her to Hawaii after most of the people in her company are ousted for embezzling. She's energized by the prospect of a completely new experience, but dies in a freak snack accident before she even makes it there.

The grimmest reality of being dead is that she's forced to fall back into the patterns she and Oscar maintained all their lives. The afterlife Yang and Hubbard envisioned is a suburban paradise or hell, depending on which way you look at it it. These "formers," as they are called, receive houses filled with items they possessed during their earthly lifetimes. Therefore it's easy for Oscar and June to settle into monotony. He's thrilled. She, understandably, is not.

The undead Riverside, CA neighborhood of Forever feels a little like the Medium Place in the NBC sitcom The Good Place. It's just OK. There's a shuffleboard court. There are a couple of vague rules. Residents of Riverside can't stray too far from a fountain or they start to feel tired. They cannot be seen by the living -- called "currents" -- but they can mildly fuck with them. Haunting takes a lot of exertion, but formers can replenish their energy by putting a hand on a current and absorbing some of his or hers.

Still, Forever isn't super concerned with world building, and much of it probably wouldn't hold up to significant scrutiny. It's more concerned with June's emotional journey. Much of that is precipitated by the arrival of Kase (Catherine Keener), an ornery figure who sees the longing in Rudolph's pained character. Keener, always a badass, is the kind of crank you want as a pal.

forever amazon
Amazon

It's with Kase that June decides to break free from Oscar and head to Oceanside, a place where formers party glamorously, unburdened by any memories of their lives before death. In Oceanside these ghosts live like Jay Gatsby sans inner turmoil. But something seems fishy. After all, June and Kase are coaxed there by a mysterious man holding a briefcase. Oscar is enraged to discover that June left him for this never-ending soiree, and they finally have a real fight instead of a passive-aggressive tiff. It's enough to compel Rudolph to ditch the Oceansiders' lavish bonfire party and run off with Oscar. To escape, they walk along the sea floor in a state of bliss, emerging in a new and unfamiliar place. They share a look of joy, but we, the audience, don't get to see what awaits them. 

It's a surreal and beautiful ending that leaves plenty of room to explore should Yang and company get another season. "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 2," Yang told The Hollywood Reporter. "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."

But that conclusion also feels somewhat under-baked in just eight half-hour episodes, offering only a simplistic resolution for these characters. Rudolph so intricately crafts June's mix of guilt and frustration, whereas Armisen's Oscar is a little flatter. For his entire married life, he's been a nice guy who doesn't ask too much of his wife, and Armisen doesn't do a whole lot to deepen him beyond that exterior. Other opportunities to add layers go begging: Despite the quiet desperation that characterized so much of the first season, we only see June spend a short amount of time away from her spouse. And that seems unfulfilling for both her and the viewer. I want to see more of June busting out "This Is How We Do It," though maybe that's just because it's so fun to see Rudolph sing. Or maybe it's because that's the only time we see June fulfilling her own needs. It may also be an indication of the show's overall depth that the episode getting the most attention is a standalone one starring Downsizing's Hong Chau and Straight Outta Compton's Jason Mitchell as two realtors who begin a doomed affair.

Ultimately, Forever is a pleasant watch, but it feels a little thin aside from Rudolph's performance. Eight episodes in, and it's still hard to connect with the world that's being created. Luckily, if there's another season, it may be in an entirely new one. 

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.