The entire first season of Forever, Amazon Studios’ take on the boredom and limits of middle-aged monogamy, is available to stream right now. It’s the sort of show that you should watch before you read or watch anything about it, because Forever is able to pull off a rare thing in modern TV: It takes a long time to show what the stakes are, and where the show is going to go. The genre itself seems to shift multiple times within the first few episodes.
[Ed. note: This article contains spoilers for Forever season 1.]
In the series, Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen play a married couple who have been together for an indeterminate number of years and, while he seems perfectly content with their life of routine and comfort, she seems to be feeling increasingly trapped.
They ditch their normal vacation at the lake house to instead try skiing, and it goes poorly. The first episode ends with the first, but not the last, cliffhanger that’s paid off before the show even settles into its basic conceit.
The closest comparison I can think of, oddly enough, is the first season of True Detective. Even near the end of that story, after watching these characters go through so much, I remember the discussions I had with my friends wondering if the show included like ... vampires? Is it possible the big reveal would be that this all somehow linked into the Cthulhu Mythos? We’re used to shows with big plot twists, but it’s much harder for a studio to create something where you can’t seem to see the edges, even if you’re given a flashlight.
Forever isn’t Lost, where even the biggest twists didn’t change what you expected from the show. It’s more subtle, with more to say. The ability to play with the audience’s expectations not just in terms of plot but by obscuring genre and even the overall scope is usually limited by definitions imposed by the marketing, but Forever has been gracefully promoted without giving away much of what it makes it unique.
“I know that they are trying to move away from trailers that give everything away ... but what is with these trailers that really don’t give you any idea of what the show is about?” one frustrated commenter on YouTube asked about the teaser trailer. “Is it just boredom in marriage or something more sinister or ..?”
It’s about all those things, because the struggles with routine and how hard the world fights to keep you in your bubble remain throughout the season, even as the world expands and contracts around these characters. The first episode sets up a bleak reality, the second episode takes a hard right turn, and the third episode resets the stakes completely. The season is almost half over before you get a sense of what the show is, and what it’s trying to do.
That ability to pull the rug out from under the viewer helps the rest of the season feel fresh, if not slightly dangerous. We may write more about it later, but for now stop reading about it and go watch it if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber. You’ll know if this is a show for you within the first hour. After that? Things get even more interesting.