Saturday, September 15, 2018

REVIEW: Amazon's 'Forever' Sees Oscar and June Looking for More Happiness in Their Marriage in Season 1

Amazon's Forever debuted its entire 8-episode first season on Friday, September 14. This post will feature brief reviews of each episode of the season.

The comedy stars Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph.

101. "Together Forever"
Written by Alan Yang & Matt Hubbard and directed by Alan Yang

Ahead of its debut on Friday, not a whole lot was actually known about Amazon's new series Forever. The streaming service asked critics who saw screeners in advance to be very secretive about many of the details - making a lot of pre-air coverage difficult to do. And now, the show is out for the audience to experience at their own pace. In the premiere, it's a little unclear what is so secretive about the new series. And yet, it also promises to keep on delivering strange details as it goes along too. Right now, it's just so beautiful watching that opening montage that shows how Oscar and June met and fell in love. It shows that it can be just as romantic meeting in the frozen food aisle of a grocery store as a bar. The montage then continues to show the happy lives they have together. It articulates that they don't have children but are happy with the friends who do. They go on the same trip year after year. The story picks up when it seems like the routine has become so monotonous for the two of them. This isn't a story about two people who no longer know how to be around each other. They are still constantly making the other laugh. This is a couple that understands each other and are happy together. June just says that it's still good to fix up a marriage from time to time to avoid these feelings building into something more. Of course, the ski trip isn't all that she was expecting either. When they just went to the lake house, they could fall into a routine of fishing, eating and enjoying the other's company. At the ski resort, they are surrounded by people and they don't know how to ski. As such, they are in a beginners class with a bunch of children who are also learning. That's so unexpected and shows that the series wants to be set in a world where Oscar and June don't seem like they belong. In fact, it builds into a big fight between them where June is surprised by Oscar's reaction simply because of his desire not to have children. It's not really articulated if she truly wanted them. She just remembers the conversation happening differently in the past. As such, they embark on their separate journeys - June at the bar with a handsome but loud stranger and Oscar on a ski slope being teased by the preteens from earlier. It all seems destined to end in disaster. But again, it's going to be so interesting to see how the show develops from this low-key start. B+

102. "June"
Directed by Alan Yang with story by Matt Murray and teleplay by Alan Yang & Matt Hubbard

Death is incredibly tragic. It's tragic for those left behind. And as explained in "June," it's also tragic for those who die. This episode functions with June living her life a year after Oscar was killed in a horrific skiing accident. The last conversation they had was a fight. Oscar was teased by some preteens and ran into a tree which promptly killed him. It's so stark and immediately suggests that the show is already changing up its premise. Of course, it surprises the audience again with the final twist as well. But building up to that point, this episode is such a profound exploration of June and the life that she actually had married to Oscar. It's a phenomenal showcase episode for Maya Rudolph. She is realizing that she has simply grown accustomed to this life with Oscar. She has accepted that this is what her life is. She doesn't believe she deserves anything better than this. This life was comfortable for her for so long. She was so happy with Oscar. She was content with this life. But she also saw trying to explore other possibilities for it as the reason why Oscar was killed. He was perfectly fine just continuing to go to the lake house and fish with his wife. She was the one who wanted to try something new. And now, she is in the middle of a store trying to figure out how to reset the internet in her house. She still ultimately succeeds in that endeavor. She is surrounded by people who are willing to let her grieve. They are supporting her. Moreover, they are encouraging her to do more. She deserves more. She just has to be willing to accept it when it's handed to her. She believes she isn't good enough when she interviews for a new job. But then, her work ethic at her current job leads to her getting promoted to a high-level executive position. That affords her a free trip to Hawaii spent in first class. It's so wonderful for her. She has such a good time getting to experience this. But she also believes it will be taken away from her at any moment in time. Even though she has the ticket, she believes it will be ripped away. And then, it tragically is. Instead of being able to explore new possibilities in Hawaii, she chokes on a macadamia nut. She immediately wakes up to Oscar standing over her ready to begin their lives again. And yet, it's so heartbreaking for June because she was ready for that life to be over. And now, it promises to start all over again. A-

103. "The Lake House"
Directed by Janicza Bravo with story by Joe Mande and teleplay by Alan Yang & Matt Hubbard

The first two episodes of Forever ended with the deaths of the lead characters. As such, the audience should probably be expecting every episode to end with some kind of significant change to the premise of the show. And yet, this one doesn't end with some massive upheaval. Instead, this episode focuses entirely on establishing the rules of this particular afterlife. It's once again confining June to a very specific life. It's the one she happily lived with Oscar for so long. And now, they can continue to live it for however long this new reality exists for both of them. This episode lays out that they can still interact with the old world. They see people who haven't died while they can no longer be hurt by the aspects of that world. But they are also confined to this neighborhood. The people living here are not free to explore wherever they want. There is just a random water fountain in the middle of the neighbor that seems to be the life source for all of them. The further they get away the weaker they become. As such, the physics of this world bring the new pleasures to the people living here. As such, all of June's favorite clothes and foods are just in the house for her to live comfortably in with Oscar. Meanwhile, the lake house is within walking distance so they can continue to form new memories in that place that once brought them so much joy. Of course, they both quickly become upset learning that their personal space has been invaded by a new family. June had to sell it because she just didn't want to be there anymore. And now, they both find clarity in letting the house go because it's not as important as being together exploring this new world. And yet, that comes after they both attempt to haunt the new family. That's the show going for some broader hijinks. It takes all of new friend Mark's energy in order to turn the light on once. Oscar can't even focus enough to do it at all. Meanwhile, June is just full of that specific energy. Mark attributes it to her being angry about something. That is certainly an aspect because she is quite infuriated that this is all that there is to life. There is no larger meaning. The afterlife is just another quaint neighborhood of bliss for those willing to believe fully in that way of life. Oscar is so happy here. June is so confused about all of it. That is to be expected as she makes the transition. But that final look also hints that she may not be happy living this life forever. It could grow very boring very quickly for her. B-

104. "Kase"
Directed by Janicza Bravo with story by Jen Statsky and teleplay by Alan Yang & Matt Hubbard

Does happiness come from the comfort of being able to do the same thing over and over again forever? Or does it come from the freedom to explore whatever one is feeling in any given moment? That appears to be such a central question for the series. This episode opens with yet another montage showing the new lives that Oscar and June have in this neighborhood. They have picked up new hobbies - June is making pottery while Oscar is doing crossword puzzles. Of course, June learns how to excel at her craft more quickly than Oscar does. Even after a year, he is still running into the same problems but still having a blast. Meanwhile, things have simply become a routine for June. That's not inherently bad for her either. Their lives are just shaken up by the arrival of a new neighbor - Kase played by Catherine Keener. She is a much more secretive person who doesn't play by the same norms of society. This has been a peaceful and quaint neighborhood of people who get along and enjoy each other. None of them are really aspiring to break from the norms of this world. June and Oscar are still being polite neighbors. And yet, that may also just be them following a social etiquette from the previous world. They aren't trying to stretch their imaginations of what this new world could be. They are just happy to be living the same lives they were essentially living on Earth. That's not what Kase wants though. She felt relief when she knew that she was going to die. It meant that she would move on to the next stage of existence. As such, it's horribly depressing to her to end up in the same world where things are playing out exactly as before. There is seemingly no way to break from it either. She tries to destroy the furniture in her house and it just magically reappears as if it is brand new. This is apparently the life the universe wants for her. And yet, she is so angry. June is angry as well. She hides behind a polite exterior. But underneath it all, there is the rage to just light a chair on fire. There are no consequences to that action either. So, she absolutely has the freedom to do it. Of course, that may threaten to become a new routine for her. Destroying the house could just be the new hobby for her that could grow tiring after awhile. Meanwhile, Oscar is completely surprised and probably has no idea what June is currently going through in this new life. B

105. "Another Place"
Directed by Miguel Arteta with story by Aniz Adam Ansari and teleplay by Alan Yang & Matt Hubbard

June only had the confidence to explore her life outside of her marriage to Oscar after he had died at the start of the series. Even then, she has very tentative about it. She never knew if she deserved all that she was striving for in her life. She had the encouragement of her friends and the support of her workplace. And yet, her life was still quickly restored to her marriage with Oscar. That was a happy celebration. They enjoy each other and don't want to make the other upset. They get along so well. But now, June is really exploring these feelings of being trapped in this world. The show is still primarily in setup mode with its version of the afterlife. Everyone in this neighborhood has largely accepted that this it for their lives and they have to abide by the rules laid out for them. Mark has been here since the '70s. He is still an immature teenager in a lot of ways. And yet, it's still thrilling watching him go on this date with his old high school crush. It sets up the idea that June and Oscar are the only couple here. That has to mean something. They should cherish it because they spent a year apart from one another. Oscar doesn't want to lose this connection. June doesn't either. However, she still feels trapped because he doesn't understand what she is feeling. When he sees her burning the chair, he reacts simply by making an even more impressive breakfast than usual. But it's ultimately a small detail that creates this huge fight between them. They argue over the proper way to load silverware into a dishwasher. He is obsessed with doing it his way. He sees it as the right way. He is perfectly happy with everything in this life. He just doesn't understand why June can't be happy with it as well. Meanwhile, she's yearning for more because she has actually been teased that there is more out there. Kase pushed her to explore. Sure, she may be a dangerous influence as well. It may be nothing more than a high that is worth chasing. And yet, that friendship also means something because it provides an understanding that is so necessary in this world. They don't want to leave the other behind in order to explore what could possibly be in Oceanside. It just seems very likely that Oscar is never going to feel the same way because he is perfectly fine in Riverside and doesn't understand how anyone could want more than what they already have here. B+

106. "Andre and Sarah"
Written by Alan Yang & Colleen McGuinness and directed by Alan Yang

This is an absolutely beautiful and heart-wrenching episode about missed connections. For the longest time, it has no connection to the rest of the series. It's simply a story set in the real world. A house in Riverside is just unable to sell and two real estate brokers keep coming back to it. It experiences minor changes over the years. But it's the relationship that they have with each other that grows more intense. It's such specific writing and acting that has to immediately convey the connection that these two characters have and the impact this house has for them. They have to remain attracted to the concept of this being something that could be substantial better for their lives if they were willing to embrace it. It's just an episode full of long stretches of conversation between Andre and Sarah. They have big discussions about the questions of the universe and what is really important. At first, it seems like Andre is completely against the idea of marriage. He wants to believe his parents would be happier if they split up years ago. But over time, he falls into the same conventions as well. Both of them do. They both live these completely separate lives in which they are married to other people. And yet, they also seem to have this profound and meaningful connection with each other. They are hesitant to act on it though. It's a surprising connection because they both sense that this is a relationship that would be so special for both of them. And yet, they fear about the consequences to the other obligations they have made in their lives. When they are both 30, they are simply doing things because it's what's expected of them. The biological clock is ticking down for Sarah while Andre scoffs at the again of committing to someone forever. A few years later they have these lives already. They have made their commitments and are starting the lives they will have forever. But this connection still means so much. They actively seek it out. It's profound and difficult for them to explain. It then takes on the idea of an illicit affair. The audience sees the spark between them. We want them to act on these feelings. We never meet their respective families. But that also comes with the added tragedy that they are never able to leave their lives behind and explore this connection outside of this specific house. This is just a relationship they have in this one location. It's perfect and special. However, it's quickly lost through time as well. When Andre comes back to the house during the latest open house as an old man, he is heartbroken to learn that Sarah has died. She passed several months ago and he didn't know. He missed out on the final moments of her life not knowing that there was anything more that he could do to live beside her. So instead, he is full of regrets of never being able to leave his life behind for something potentially better with Sarah. That then presents as a strong parallel for the life that June is now living as well. This entire story has been playing out for June too. She sees the life not lived by Sarah and Andre. As such, it motivates her to go to Kase wanting to go to Oceanside. She doesn't want to regret not seeing if there is something else out there that could bring her more joy. A

107. "Oceanside"
Directed by Miguel Arteta with story by Ali Gusberg and teleplay by Alan Yang & Matt Hubbard

June left Oscar a note. That's how she decided to leave him. She believed that it would be better to explain her decision to him that way. Kase also makes quite the point in saying that Oscar would have made her feel guilty about that decision. She would have second-guessed it until she decided not to go. He can be controlling like that. He is so happy and doesn't understand how June isn't feeling the same way despite how much they love each other. June just wanted a sense of adventure in her life. She is now getting that. She is able to explore the bottom of the ocean. That's absolutely miraculous. And yet, this new society she finds in Oceanside can be pretty dangerous and reckless too. They are chasing the high this new life affords them. They have no problem stealing part of the spirits of those in the previous world. They are also staring down a truck just to feel the rush of being dissolved and coming back together. It's so scary. But it's so invigorating as well. June and Kase went on this adventure to find something else. A new reason to find meaning in life instead of the banality of their prior existences. They discovered a place that was so welcoming to them and pushed their minds about what is capable in this world. June seems to love it more than Kase does. And yet, their friendship is able to survive throughout all of this. It's not an instance where they are torn apart. Instead, that comes when Oscar arrives. Even though his wife has left him, he is still living his life the same as before. He almost doesn't even register it. The people around him are telling him that he should be mad and depressed. He isn't any of those things. He is still just blindly happy. He truly believes that June will come back to him. Sure, he is still pushed to go on this journey to find her. He believes he will be able to rescue her from whatever else is out there. That's so controlling. It proves that he has never fully understood June. They had plenty of honest and happy moments. But it's absolutely genuine when he arrives at the party just to yell at June and Kase for breaking up his happy home. Things were perfect for him until they caused this destruction. He is finally allowed to be angry. June made this decision without talking to the person who is suppose to mean so much to her. And now, it seems like he may fade away from existence because he has traveled so far without stealing from someone else. That moment is also just as meaningful for June because she still wants Oscar to be okay despite all of this. B

108. "Goodbye Forever"
Written by Alan Yang & Matt Hubbard and directed by Alan Yang

Are June and Oscar a good and healthy couple? That's the central question of the series. These episodes have been an examination of what it means to be in a relationship long time - especially when the individuals now know that it will last forever. June and Oscar are both dead. They have adjusted to this new reality. It took both of them dying for them to truly express how they were feeling. Of course, it's also a little lackluster that the show just explains that these individuals need to stay near water in order to survive in the world. It seemed like Oscar was about to fade away because he simply traveled too far away from the fountain in Riverside without stealing from a current. But that fixes itself just by him being near the water. As such, that's not a hard and fast rule that the show will have to abide by in the future. Right now, it's simply more pressing as the two of them finalize a divorce and then realize that they are still stuck together. Even though both of them want Oscar to go back to Riverside, he is prevented from leaving. Now, it always seemed obvious that they could just escape by walking along the ocean floor. June just did that an episode ago. And so, it's a little ridiculous that she encourages Oscar to build a boat that will not work at all. However, that story happens in order to bring the two of them back together. Oscar needs supplies and June is willing to retrieve them for him. She doesn't want to see him again. That means she is helping with his escape. It just conveniently brings them back together. It reminds them of the simple and easy chemistry and humor that they have. It also makes them honest about how they had to be the people they wanted to be instead of blaming the other for why they didn't achieve more in life. That is such an easy crutch. And now, they are willing to forgive the other and themselves. As such, that allows this marriage to be more open and honest. When the time comes for launch, June decides that she wants to be with Oscar instead of staying at Oceanside. She leaves without telling Kase goodbye. And yet, her friend can also sense that June is falling back in love with her husband once more. She isn't forgetting the life she lived with him. She still cherishes those memories. All of this means they just have to find a new way forward. A life that will make both of them happen. Riverside and Oceanside are not the eternal paradises they wanted. And so, they simply walk into the ocean until they decide to come up again. They land in a new location which is bound to come with its own complications. But June and Oscar are willing to experience them together as they stand hand-in-hand on this journey. B+