Forever (TV Show)

Here’s a thread to discuss the Forever, a TV show on Amazon.

Mitchell strongly recommended this series to me, so I watched the first episode, which I didn’t care for, explaining that the characters turned me off. Here is the subsequent exchange between Mitchell and me:

Mitchell
Wow, really. I thought the characters would appeal to you, especially the dialogues they have about (for example) the best kind of pie, or whatever.

I’m beginning to think you and I have completely different ideas about creativity, because I was sucked in from those first ten minutes. I knew I was seeing something I’d never seen before on television. Or maybe you’re right, and you’re really just through with television. I can see that. I mean, you might stage the most creative Black Swan ever and I wouldn’t really care because I don’t like ballet.

Reid
The characters weren’t very likable to me, and the dialogue didn’t really stand out–not as something really original and creative.

Can you recall specifics about what was so unique?

Mitchell

I can’t say exactly what was the most creative because it would detract from the experience, if you should ever get to episode 3. Even telling you why I can’t tell you would be deleterious to a person’s viewing experience. And you know I’m not hypervigilant about spoilers.

But in the first episode, which you’ve already seen, I’d point first to the opening montage, a continuous side-scrolling, no-dialogue summary of how these two characters got to where we they are when we first get to know them. It’s the kind of thing you might see in a movie (as in Up), but certainly never in a program broadcast on television. I guess it’s the kind of thing you might see in Seinfeld or MASH, but this specific way of expositing is not something I’ve seen.

How would these two characters get together? Neither is particularly attractive (some might disagree, of course) or particularly interesting on the surface. The conversations they have establish them as smart, charming, playful, and something else I can’t really put a finger on. Of course, none of this is new. Revealing characters through their conversations is just writing.

But there’s something else. I like the way Fred Armisen’s character seems like he’d be the same person, with the same interactions, whoever he’d be with, even if he were living alone. He seems like he’d be pretty close to fine living by himself. But Rudolph’s character is different. I don’t doubt she loves her husband. But she gave something up in favor of love. It’s some of Rudolph’s best acting.

It didn’t work for you, so I get why you didn’t respond the way I did. When it was all over, I looked back and had a personal crisis. I mean, I was already kind of in the midst of a crisis anyway, but this really brought it to a boil. How the heck do you write like this? It makes me wonder (and don’t ask me about this because I don’t want to talk about it beyond what I’m about to say) if I’m that ball player who looks great hitting fastballs but simply cannot put a curveball into play. It doesn’t matter if you can smack a fastball like Barry Bonds; if you can’t hit a curve, you can’t play in the majors.

But yeah. I guess you’re right that something’s being difficult to produce doesn’t make it good. I think it’s very good, though!

12 thoughts on “Forever (TV Show)

  1. OK, I watched the entire series. Before I re-read Mitchell’s last comment, here is my reaction about the series, off the top of my head (spoilers):

    The second episode pulled me into the series. It starts off with a surprise, but the emphasis on Maya Rudolph’s character, with a more dramatic slant, was the primary reason for my interest. Most of the humor has not really appealed to me, although I think much of this is due to an overall growing indifference to sitcom humor in general, so taking a more dramatic turn appealed to me.

    I liked the way the series uses the afterlife as a way to reflect on the life before this. This isn’t original, but Forever’s conception of the afterlife naturally leads to reflection and commentary on life before we die in a way that I found interesting. For example, the afterlife is largely a continuation of one’s life before one dies–but without the fear of death or eternal punishment. The characters also have no responsibilities like providing for their or their loved ones’ material needs. This creates space for an important question: How would a person want to live their life without these constraints?

    While I think this is an interesting premise and an interesting way to get viewers to reflect on their life, my own conception of human existence, human nature, and the afterlife caused a lot of interference. To think about one’s life without fear seems unrealistic or not something that the vast majority of human beings would ever achieve. That is, most people won’t be able to escape fear. But to be clear, I’m not saying this to dismiss the series, but only to explain my response.

    Mitchell mentioned creativity, and I could definitely see that in the “Andre and Sarah” episodes. By the way, I also liked the interracial aspect and the way the series includes people of color. Aside of artistic merits, normalizing interracial relationships and depicting people of color in humanizing way, making them seem less alienable and more relatable, are qualities I really liked, and I wish there were more of this in TV and film.

  2. Those Andre and Sarah episodes were amazing. Can you imagine any TV show doing something like this for a whole episode? Atlanta has come close, once in each season, but in those episodes at least one of the recognizable characters was still the focus of the episodes. Forever takes the idea to an extreme, and I was blown away.

    1. Those episodes were interesting and compelling. I think Larri would have preferred if the series centered around those two characters.

      I did think the interactions got a little to self-conscious and didactic with regard to matters of race.

      One of other thing I forgot to mention: This series is more interesting and easier to watch than The Good Place for some reason. I think they’ve toned down the sitcom humor a bit more, and that may be the reason for me.

    2. I wonder if the multi-ethnic nature of peripheral characters and their relationships has anything to do with Armisen’s and Rudolph’s own compositions. He’s half Venezuelan and a quarter Korean, and she’s half African American. Did you know her mom is Minnie Riperton?

      1. No, I didn’t know Rudolph’s mom is Riperton. (How old is Riperton now? Is she still alive?) And I didn’t know she was half African-American and Armisen is part Korean. The showrunner is Chinese (or is Korean), too, right?

        I have to imagine all of this factors in to seeing more people of color, particularly Asians.

    3. I think we should also discuss “sitcom humor” perhaps in a separate topic. I was just talking to my dad about how different comedy on TV is today from what it was on shows I loved growing up. If Happy Days were on TV today there’s no way I would watch it, but I loved it in the 70s and 80s, and so did the rest of the country. It’s in a different zip code from, say, Arrested Development and The Office, which themselves are different from Atlanta, which sometimes seems like it’s daring you to laugh.

      1. I’d be open to discussing this. And I’d be interested in watching examples. I’ve watched some of episodes of Arrested Development and the British version of The Office. I liked the latter, but not so much the former. But I’m not sure I’d even enjoy the latter all that much now.

        Here’s one possible explanation for my cooling to sitcom humor: The more I’m aware of the presence of gag writers, I think the less I like the humor. I think, in this case, the humor isn’t natural and subtle, and it’s contrived, too clever. It’s almost as if the presence of the writers is too conspicuous. Also, the more the gags are central, the less I enjoy the humor. The plot and characters and dialogue are there for the humor.

      2. I don’t think you mentioned sitcom humor as a reason for not initially caring for Forever. Was the humor in that first episode sitcommy?

  3. I liked the way the series uses the afterlife as a way to reflect on the life before this. This isn’t original, but Forever’s conception of the afterlife naturally leads to reflection and commentary on life before we die in a way that I found interesting.

    Me too. It reminded me for quick flash of a moment in Peggy Sue Got Married, when Kathleen Turner goes back in time to her high school days. Nicholas Cage asks her to marry him, but knowing how their marriage turns out 30 years later, Turner says, “I was stupid enough to marry you the first time; I’m not doing it again,” or something like that. I mean it reminded me as kind of a reverse situation. Going back to earlier in life in order to reflect on what happens later in life.

    For example, the afterlife is largely a continuation of one’s life before one dies–but without the fear of death or eternal punishment. The characters also have no responsibilities like providing for their or their loved ones’ material needs. This creates space for an important question: How would a person want to live their life without these constraints?

    I wonder if you’ve considered the possibility that these people aren’t really in the real afterlife. What do you think is over the sea? Did the afterlife we’ve seen so far not remind you a little bit of purgatory?

    While I think this is an interesting premise and an interesting way to get viewers to reflect on their life, my own conception of human existence, human nature, and the afterlife caused a lot of interference.

    This surprises me a little, although I guess it really shouldn’t. I think of you as someone who admires other people’s thoughtful musings on whatever happens after this life. I know you’ve admired certain kinds of Buddhist thinking, and you called your parents’ religion “the Buddhist version of Christianity.”

    I don’t know what the heck I believe about the afterlife. I’m beginning to think I don’t believe anything about it. Maybe that relieves me of the burden of my concepts clashing with whatever concepts are being presented.

    To think about one’s life without fear seems unrealistic or not something that the vast majority of human beings would ever achieve. That is, most people won’t be able to escape fear. But to be clear, I’m not saying this to dismiss the series, but only to explain my response.

    Are you talking about life in the afterlife as being without fear, or are you talking about how being in the afterlife makes Maya Rudolph think she should have lived without fear when she was on earth? I didn’t really pick up on any themes of fear in the series but I’m open to that interpretation.

    If it’s the latter, I agree. I dislike pithy quotes about living without fear, or living like every day is our last. Nobody actually means it when they say it, and it is unrealistic and impractical. But unless I missed something, I don’t think the show suggests this. Maya (I can’t remember any characters’ names right now) doesn’t seem to think she lived her life fearfully; she seems to think she settled for comfortable (or that she traded in excitement for love, which is my take).

  4. Mitchell,

    I don’t think you mentioned sitcom humor as a reason for not initially caring for Forever. Was the humor in that first episode sitcommy?

    I can’t remember now, but I think so. In any event, I didn’t care for the characters and the humor in the first episode.

    I wonder if you’ve considered the possibility that these people aren’t really in the real afterlife. What do you think is over the sea? Did the afterlife we’ve seen so far not remind you a little bit of purgatory?

    My current understanding and interpretation is very fluid, as I’m not entirely sure of the show’s set up and rules for the afterlife. They could definitely be in purgatory. When the characters go to Oceanside, as well as the place Oscar and June end in the last episode, this opens the possibility to different places people can go to.

    I mean it reminded me as kind of a reverse situation. Going back to earlier in life in order to reflect on what happens later in life.

    I didn’t think of Peggy Sue, but I can see what you mean.

    This surprises me a little, although I guess it really shouldn’t. I think of you as someone who admires other people’s thoughtful musings on whatever happens after this life. I know you’ve admired certain kinds of Buddhist thinking, and you called your parents’ religion “the Buddhist version of Christianity.”

    I don’t really consider the show’s theology as being on par with Buddhism or any other world religion, but if it turns out that’s the case, I think I will have a higher regard the show’s conception of the afterlife.

    I don’t know what the heck I believe about the afterlife. I’m beginning to think I don’t believe anything about it. Maybe that relieves me of the burden of my concepts clashing with whatever concepts are being presented.

    I don’t know if this applies to you or not, but if I weren’t thinking so much about my own mortality or the afterlife, I think my reaction to the series might be really different.

    Are you talking about life in the afterlife as being without fear, or are you talking about how being in the afterlife makes Maya Rudolph think she should have lived without fear when she was on earth? I didn’t really pick up on any themes of fear in the series but I’m open to that interpretation.

    I meant the latter–but not so much for June, but for viewers.

    By the idea of living without fear occurred to me when Kase and June have that conversation in Kase’s kitchen. I can’t remember the specifics, but June explains something she does by referring to social convention, or about what others would think. And Kase says, “Who cares? What does it matter now?” or something to that effect. At that moment, it occurred to me that, as far we know, the characters are totally free–free from social conventions, personal responsibilities, maybe even morality. Then again, if they’re in a purgatory or limbo–where what they do actually has consequences–then that’s something else entirely.

    Maya (I can’t remember any characters’ names right now) doesn’t seem to think she lived her life fearfully; she seems to think she settled for comfortable (or that she traded in excitement for love, which is my take).

    But maybe she settled for at a more comfortable life out of fear, at least partly.

  5. There’s a Ringer piece today on Amazon TV, and whether or not anyone’s watching it.

    https://www.theringer.com/tv/2018/12/19/18147282/amazon-tv-romanoffs-jack-ryan-homecoming-marvelous-mrs-maisel-forever

    Forever gets a passing mention:

    It brought us the low-key surrealist comedy Forever, starring Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph, which featured my single favorite TV episode of the year but was hamstrung, here deep in the too-much-TV era, by the fact that you were supposed to go into it knowing as little as possible.

    That is a problem. If it hadn’t been recommended by someone I really trust (and who, to be honest, I really want to trust) I don’t know if I’d have jumped in either, because she said what everyone else says: It’s better not to know anything going in.

    Oh, there’s more:

    Which leaves Forever, starring Armisen and Rudolph as an awkward-cute married couple who — well, here’s the problem. It’s better if you go in knowing nothing, but it’s better if you go in knowing nothing is a crap way to sell a TV show in a year that featured, like, 6,000 new TV shows. Forever’s September premiere was far overshadowed, via those same internet-eyeball intangibles, by Netflix’s unveiling of BoJack Horseman Season 5, which is not a fair fight, but Amazon could scarcely afford to pick a less-fair fight than usual. The natural off-kilter charm of Armisen and especially Rudolph aside, Forever also takes awhile to get going, but it peaks — and, indeed, television in 2018 as a whole arguably peaks — with the sixth episode, which, save a quick and by that point meaningless Rudolph cameo at the end, doesn’t feature either star at all.

    I wonder what the writer means by meaningless. That cameo is amazing and puts the whole second half of the season into perspective for me.

  6. I don’t know if I’d have jumped in either, because she said what everyone else says: It’s better not to know anything going in.

    Off the top of my head, I tend to think would increase my interest, at least a little, especially if I trusted the person saying this.

    How would you try to sell the series while not saying much? Off the top of my head, I think I would speak to some of the subtleties, in the acting and storytelling, that don’t seem common, especially for a sitcom. There’s also some level of thoughtfulness about a serious matter that doesn’t seem like sitcom fare.

    I wonder what the writer means by meaningless. That cameo is amazing and puts the whole second half of the season into perspective for me.

    My guess is that she’s referring to the character’s importance in the story/plot of that specific episode. Her presence is definitely not meaningless for her character or the series as a whole.

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