When Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen’s eight-episode dramedy, Forever, landed on Amazon last Friday no one really knew what it was about, even though there’d been reviews and a trailer and it was famously written by Master of None‘s Alan Yang and 30 Rock’s Matt Hubbard. It’s because Bezos & Sons prohibited critics with screeners from revealing the plot twists that become the catalysts that drive the action that shape the show. I won’t spoil them either, not really, because it’s better if you’re caught off-guard and forced to find your footing each time Forever shifts its perspective.
What I’m trying to say is: Forever is like if Portlandia had a baby with San Junipero and it grew up watching only Spike Jonze and Richard Linklater films. It also explores middle-aged queerness in a way I’ve never seen before on TV.
The story is that June (Rudolph) and Oscar (Armisen) have been together a long, long time, in that kind of comfortable, broken-in relationship that some people find so peaceful and other people find so suffocating. Oscar likes going to the same place for vacation every year, he likes catching the same fish, he likes cooking the same meal, he likes serving it with the same voilà and white wine. June never stops eating his trout almondine, never stops saying thank you, but her smile becomes tighter and her gaze becomes more distant, until you can’t even fathom how far the horizon is she’s staring toward. Oscar doesn’t look at her looking, which is half the problem.
Much has been written about Maya Rudolph’s face in recent weeks, best and most importantly by Caity Weaver — “Separate from the irrefutable fact that God looks like Maya Rudolph is the equally remarkable revelation that Maya Rudolph looks like God. That is, she looks at you the same way, you must imagine, that God takes in his creation. — in her New York Times magazine profile of the beloved SNL alum. And I’m here to tell you that everyone who talked about how magical her performance is in Forever is absolutely correct. Her face says Forever is straight, middle-class listlessness. No, now her face says Forever is the non-linear cycle of grief. No, now her face says Forever is a triumphant, feminist comedy. No, it’s a love story. No, it’s a rebirth. No, it’s a queer sexual awakening. No, it’s… sci-fi?
When Catherine Keener’s Kase arrives next door to June and Oscar, flannel and Birkenstocks and a no time for nonsense, she’s had it with life. (With her former life.) Her boring former job and her boring former husband in her boring former town with its boring former monotony and no one ever questioning what they were doing and why and what it all meant in the grand scheme (and what even is the grand scheme?). June senses a kindred spirit in Kase, and while Kase seems ready to meet on the plane of their discontent and burn their lives to the ground looking for answers in the ashes, June is — well, the truth is that she does love Oscar, deeply. He’s her kindred spirit too, and what they have built together, their life, the way they move easily around each other, their banter, the knowingness of it all: It’s her home.
Oscar doesn’t understand June’s obsession with Kase. And June doesn’t really understand it either. Kase challenges her, sees things in her Oscar never saw; she puts her hand on June’s hand and their energy exchange is enough to literally knock a man out.
I can’t take it any farther than that, plot-wise, or I’ll unravel all the mystery.
Forever makes me not want to to use that well-worn (and very important) diagnostic we reach for to pass official judgment on whether queer representation is Good or Bad. Does the show step on some tropes? Yeah. Does it quench your queer thirst? It probably depends on your life experiences. I watched these two middle-aged women circle each other, sense a spark, take a step, and another, and I heard the show name it as a joke and name it as a real thing and theorize that everyone is gay and I tilted my head at the TV like a golden retriever puppy, at this new, subtle, real, affecting thing.
Forever asks a whole lot of questions it doesn’t answer: Is love comfort or is love adventure? Is love’s hero the peace-maker or is love’s hero the risk-taker? Is the flicker of a connection enough to build a life on? Is it enough to tear another life down for? What does it mean to build a life anyway? Is contentment the enemy of happiness? What am I doing and what are you doing and what are we doing, as couples and as humans on this planet? It’s wistful and hopeful and Maya Rudolph does some world-class swearing in it.
A beautifully filmed series about boring love with evolving queer characters who are shaded-in, a series that forbids discussion of the plot but who cares because it’s a glacial character study, a series where Maya Rudolph sings “This Is How We Do It” with a full orchestra and really does tell half the story of the whole show with just her face. Forever is not for all people, but it is for some people — and that’s kind of the point.
heather your second-to-last paragraph made me fully cry?? thank you for making me so excited to watch this show once i (apparently) have the emotional bandwidth for it!
“her gaze becomes more distant, until you can’t even fathom how far the horizon is she’s staring toward. Oscar doesn’t look at her looking, which is half the problem.”
Gorgeous writing. Thank you.
heather. like… what the fuck. this review is pure poetry get out of here!!!!!!! WHY AM I TEARY!!!!!
also i very much loved this show and everything about it, especially the resolution “that was the first real conversation we’ve ever had” was a REVELATION.
and just have to throw one in for my girl, catherine keener, who never ever stops being super hot.
AND WAS THAT JULIETTE BINOCHE AT THE END????
This review is beautiful and perfect! Like I was really disappointed with the series, but your review is still beautiful and perfect!
For me, the show scared me with its lack of genuine connections anywhere. Like I didn’t feel the connection between June and Oscar, but I also didn’t feel it between her and Kase. The relationships felt like rote performances of relationships, like the veneers in their midcentury houses, making pretty the fact that we are alone – that we’ve always been alone, that we WILL live and die alone, no matter how much trout almondine and banter we share with another person. June and Oscar didn’t really know each other at all, but did she really get to know Kase any better?
You’re right – the series WAS beautifully filmed, and I appreciated the nuances of Maya Rudolph’s performance. But I honestly wanted to slap every character there (which may have been part of the point? I’m not sure). I wanted to shout WAKE UP! DO SOMETHING REAL! And they tried, but even when they set out for somewhere new, it didn’t feel any realer than anything else that had happened.
I’m left unsettled because I don’t know what it means. I don’t know what it was trying to tell me! I know we perform for each other, but I also think there are aspects to our relationships with one another that are very real, and I know there are things that we do that do actually have meaning, and do actually allow us to feel very authentic emotions, and that was all missing for me here.
I have to agree with you. I know a lot of this show was very subtle and I’m used to that with other indies, but this felt lacking – I think for the reasons you were able to articulate and for other reasons I can’t. I was just very underwhelmed? As Heather said it’s not for everybody and it certainly wasn’t for me.
Heather! I had never heard of this show before, but after reading this, I know what I’m doing with my weekend.
I wondered what the fuck this show was about but since it’s GAY I’m all in now! Also like Maya Rudolph has a good face so who needs any other reason?
Thank you for recommending this. It was so good. I loved the pacing. You never knew what might happen next.
Light my face on fire
Finally circling back to this show on my winter break. I agree with Heather, the show is going to mean different things to people with different experiences but as a woman in her thirties who left her husband after finally figuring out her sexuality, the writers nailed the nuance of familiarity and companionship and missing someone but not wanting to be with them anymore. And episode six with Sarah and Andre was fucking beautiful. And heartbreaking. Great review Heather!