[Editor’s note: Spoilers for “Forever” Season 1 begin here.]
It takes the first two episodes of “Forever” for it to make its premise clear: This is a show about life, but through the prism of death. June, following a tragic encounter with a macadamia nut, finds herself reunited with the recently deceased Oscar in a quiet suburb only occupied by “Formers.” While confronted by the strangeness of this situation, the couple essentially returns to their old routines, until June is inspired, by a variety of circumstances including a new connection with their neighbor Kase (Catherine Keener!) to explore the boundaries beyond both the community and her marriage.
Deliberately building up Oscar and June as characters over the course of two episodes before the premise takes over is just one of the series’ bold moves, and it’s easy to imagine people who have managed to avoid knowing what’s about to happen getting frustrated and giving up before they reach the fateful end of Episode 2.
However, after sticking with it, the point of drawing out the first portion of the story makes a certain sort of sense, given how incredibly character-oriented everything is. The frustration then becomes that literally one quarter of the show is spent on this set-up, which is real estate that could have been used for even just a fraction more of world-building.
Big concepts, like the fountain or whether there are more communities of Formers beyond the suburbs and Oceanside, mostly hover in the background. Meanwhile, June and Oscar question whether their relationship was dead before they ever were, while also coming to understand just what their new state of being is.
That journey tears them apart for a time, before ultimately reuniting them for a surreal yet beautiful decision to escape their routines and push forward towards something new; moving forward together, not feeling held back by the past. When they arrive together in a new land, there is both a fierce curiosity about what might come next as well as a deep satisfaction that their journey continues on. Despite being Formers, they are not trapped by that state of being.
However, perhaps the most exciting installment of the series is Episode 6, “Andre and Sarah,” which gives Armisen and Rudolph some time off by focusing on Andre (Jason Mitchell) and Sarah (Hong Chau) two real estate agents whose complicated romance culminates in the sort of everyday, seemingly mundane tragedy that breaks your heart before you even realize you’d fallen in love.
It’s an extraordinarily well-formed half-hour of television, to the point where it might honestly overwhelm the rest of the season. Mitchell and Chau have unbelievable chemistry, and the way the story of their characters unfurls is so captivating that it raises the question of what “Forever” would be like were it to have been more of an anthology, with more episodes devoted to other characters within this universe. When the show returns its focus to June and the others, it’s a bit of a disappointment.
(By the way, congrats to Chau on having a very exciting September 14; she also plays a key new character in “BoJack Horseman” Season 5, now streaming on Netflix, and hopefully this is just the start of the “Downsizing” breakout becoming Queen of Hollywood.)
The rest of the supporting cast, including Keener, Mitchell, and Julia Ormond, is strong — really, there are so many elements of “Forever” that deserve admiration. But this is not a perfect season of television; for one thing, even as short as it might be, June and Oscar coping with the existential nature of their new circumstances still feels like it has a bit of drag to it, if only because the stakes start off ill-defined and never really feel massive until close to the very end. As mentioned before, the love between June and Oscar feels genuine, but lots of couples that love each other maybe shouldn’t stay together, and the argument for them remaining partnered literally forever doesn’t necessarily coalesce by the end.
However, the fact that in the end, they do reunite and find their own path, beyond the monotony of the suburbs or the bleak nihilism of Oceanside, ensures that the series ends on a near-perfect note. There’s such beauty to their choice, to the idea that even in death, there’s still hope for something more, that it makes sense why Yang and Hubbard don’t want viewers to watch “Forever” with some crass pitch like “It’s ‘Beetlejuice’ meets ‘The Good Place’!” in their heads. After all, death is for so many, on either side of the line, an unexpected thing.
“Forever” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.