Opinion | ‘Til death don’t us part
A new comedy series with plenty of surprising turns takes a dig at eternal romances
It’s hard to buy a router.
The specifications are confounding, the numbers lie, and you’re never sure which will best suit your internet provider. These are daunting questions. Thus it is in an electronics store, surrounded by weirdly numbered routers, that June breaks down because her husband, Oscar, is dead. He was the one who looked after the green light connecting them to the web, and now she can’t even go online to drunk-buy things late at night.
Forever is an Amazon Prime comedy about the afterlife, created by Alan Yang (co-creator of the brilliant Master Of None, on Netflix) and Matt Hubbard (a writer on Parks & Recreation and 30 Rock, both now on Amazon). It feels like a droll meditation on grief, about losing a loved one. Then again, as this surprising series rolls on, it turns into a meditation on marriages, on the nature of mortality, on routines, on romance, and, finally—bear with me—a meditation on meditations.
We are introduced to June (Maya Rudolph) and Oscar (Fred Armisen) by a couple-y montage borrowed from Pixar’s Up, one of the standout animation sequences of our time. Except on this show, bereft of adventure, romantic novelty wears thin enough to make even the jazz strains of Miles Davis sound repetitive and elevator-esque. As they settle into a comfortable rut and Oscar serves up freshly caught trout with the same modestly theatrical flourish, year after year, the audience may feel bored enough to appreciate the ennui on June’s plate.
Rudolph, a fearless, frequently surprising actor, summons a lifetime’s worth of disappointment with a glance, but Armisen appears to be doing a parodic impersonation of a nice guy. This, it becomes apparent, is because he is play-acting. In order to keep the couple from imploding, he continually, passive-aggressively acts too nice (“the peacemaker," he says) while she desperately hunts for a real reaction. She wants more, and thanks to Armisen’s largely grating performance, so do we. Then, as she attempts to change up their rhythms, he dies.
After months of mourning—and drinking individually packaged cups of wine—June picks herself up, gets her router in order, and a dream job in Hawaii. All this happens in a contemplative second episode that shows off Rudolph’s formidable acting chops as she goes at life full-tilt but also solo: hopeless, then too-eager, then afraid. Finally, as she settles into a first-class seat, a macadamia nut attacks. Right as we’ve settled to her survivor storyline, she dies.
June wakes up, stunned. She’s surrounded by endless suburbia and her loving husband, Oscar, looking down and welcoming her to the afterlife. “Am I not going to Hawaii?" June asks, as shell-shocked as we are.
They may be dead, yet this is not The Good Place (a show where Rudolph is fantastic as an all-knowing, television-addicted judge). Instead, we have antiseptic monotone, a retirement community with little to do and where the food you like appears in your kitchen. Oscar seems content to fail at crossword puzzles every morning, but June is devastated at the lack of grand or existential answers, and worse, by the fact that nobody is asking questions. This is Pleasant(ish)ville.
Weird things take place—with tributes to films like The Truman Show and Beetlejuice—but Forever essentially questions our desire for perpetuity, which is why this afterlife feels ad hoc, where the rules are unclear.
The finest episode doesn’t feature Oscar or June. Instead, we meet two lovely and believable characters, who make wonderfully unremarkable conversation and find their groove so naturally we can’t help but cheer them on. Directed by Yang, it’s an immaculate episode I’d recommend—episode six, titled “Andre & Sarah"—even if you skip the series itself. This relationship, unreservedly a romance, serves as an acute reminder of how many other relationships settle for mere echoes of a true connection.
Watch Forever for Maya Rudolph. For the way she inhabits this unpretentious character and makes her reasonable enough and curious enough to function as an audience substitute, behaving as inquisitive as the viewer. She has originality, flavour and unmistakable personality. June gently moves forward, barely in sync with the people or places around her, but, as she demonstrates with a superlative performance, this is how she does it. Her flow is always musical, never rhyming. This woman is a haiku.
And haikus never die.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather
He tweets at @rajasen