11:15am PT by Jean Bentley
'Forever' Creators Talk Through That Big Twist, Potential Season 2
The creators of Amazon's Forever were so tight-lipped about the plot details of their series — the list of do-not-reveals that came with the screeners was about as long as the number of celebrity impressions Maya Rudolph did on Saturday Night Live — that when The Hollywood Reporter sat down with stars Rudolph and Fred Armisen, the duo refused to talk about anything that actually happened in the series (aside from the four-minute montage opener about their relationship, marriage, and ensuing monotony).
So here's what happens in the first and second episodes that the creators were so reluctant to reveal: In the premiere, Armisen's Oscar dies in a tragic skiing accident. In the second episode, Rudolph's June dies in a tragic macadamia nut-related accident. The two are then reunited in the afterlife — and suddenly the title, Forever, takes on a whole new meaning. Oscar introduces June to their new life together — he doesn't know much, however — and June in particular has to grapple with the realization that perhaps she didn't necessarily know just how literally she'd need to take her marriage vows.
The fact that the series doesn't set out any ground rules for the afterlife — other than some lingo (the deceased are known as "formers," and they're able to obtain energy from the living by touching them, known as "juicing"), there's not really any further instruction — was an extremely conscious choice by creators Alan Yang (Master of None) and Matt Hubbard (30 Rock).
"We wanted to err on the side of not doing so many rules and exposition. It honestly felt not only funnier, but a little more real," Yang told THR. "I know that sounds crazy for describing a fantastical situation, but we like the idea that they're just kind of confused and lost. We don't have rules in our real lives, why are we here in our regular lives? Let's err on the side of let the audience fill in the blanks; let the audience imagine what might actually be going on."
Other things that aren't explained in Forever: Why these particular people, who all died in different eras, are sent to this specific place; why some families are together and others aren't; what in the heck the deal is with the weird culty group of people at the beach who June and afterlife enemy-turned-BFF Kase (Catherine Keener) meet; what the point is to any of these people's continued existence? What the show traffics in instead is meditation on grief and guilt and death and love.
Explained Yang, "If I got hit by a car, would I be cool with what I've done in my life? I try to use that as a judge for my behavior. I think that was one of the reasons we were attracted to this show. These two people are in the midst of an emotional crisis while they are alive and then they both get killed and get a second chance at it. Which is in some ways kind of almost like wish fulfillment. June and Oscar go back and fix the problems that they never talked to each other about when they were alive. One of my favorite moments in this is when Oscar says, 'Too bad we didn't talk about this when we were alive.' That's an interesting question that ran through it that I think about sometimes."
Added Hubbard, "Episode 102 is a lot about June's grief, and the questions and doubts she has in that episode are recapitulated later on in the season. And in the episode about Andre and Sarah, obviously themes of regret and the paths not taken, that's stuff that I've thought about a lot and I'm putting into a lot of the stuff I've worked on."
The fact that the series deals with many of the same topics as TV's reigning afterlife comedy, The Good Place, isn't lost on Yang and Hubbard (who previously worked with Good Place creator Mike Schur on Parks and Recreation). They're pleased about any potential comparisons, but hope the differences between the two series will be even more apparent.
"We think this show is totally different than The Good Place. It's focusing on a central marriage," said Hubbard. "The Venn diagram does intersect. We hope that there are some places they're different, because I love The Good Place. I think that is such a great show and it's also asking a ton of interesting questions about what it means to be a human and how you want to live your life. Hopefully there are truths to both." While the season begins with June and Oscar stuck in a rut and their subsequent deaths intensify their feelings of frustration with each other, Forever still has an unshakable optimism at its core.
"There's a warmth to it and there's an optimism. Certainly in the stuff that I've worked on in the past, there is a trend of optimism," said Yang. "There's a little bit of hope, but there's some darkness to the show. There's not jokes in every scene, but ultimately I think there's an underlying belief that human connection is possible and worthwhile."
Plus, in such a politically fraught time, putting something optimistic into the world is a really nice prospect for both Armisen and Rudolph.
"I've heard that desire come from just about everyone," Rudolph said. "'I really want to watch something good right now. I want to feel good right now.' People don't feel good. And it's not just not feeling good. There's a lot of anxiety. People are very stressed out. People are very scared. So that's not a pleasant place to be and yes, entertainment can provide this sort of escape, but I personally would prefer to put something positive into the world instead of just like two punks, like, (in a cockney accent) 'fuck you fuckers, fuck life, this fuckin' bullshit.'"
Despite the fact that Forever stars two incredibly funny people (see previous quote) and has funny moments, it doesn't necessarily fit the currently defined construct of a sitcom. Would Yang consider his series a comedy?
"We definitely wanted to put jokes in it, and we'd be fools to have a show with Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen and not make some of it funny," said Yang, "but the more important thing to us was whether each scene was true to the overall story, and true to the characters, and felt emotionally resonant, and felt like there was some kernel of honesty that we were getting across. So not all the scenes are laden with jokes, and some scenes are really laden with jokes. That was kind of fun, actually."
The final scene of the season features June and Oscar leaving the strange beachside cult and going off on their own adventure, hand in hand, into the ocean. It's the kind of ending that's both satisfying should the series get cut short — the couple has seemingly worked out their issues and is ready to face life (or the afterlife) together again — but it's also incredibly mysterious. Where did they go? How did they know to do that? Yang was pleased with the closing moments but has high hopes for a second season.
"I thought that underwater stuff turned out great. Maya and Fred's performance in that last scene on the beach is great — just the look on their faces as they walk toward the camera and walk past us. To me it's a fulfillment of the first frame of the series, but also we do have some ideas if and when we'd like to do a season two. Because anything could happen at that point, and I think that's exciting. They've clearly resolved some sort of issue in their relationship, but I think there's still story left to be told."
Forever is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.