Forever, a new Amazon series created by Alan Yang (Master of None) and Matt Hubbard (30 Rock), has its work cut out for it. The show hangs on two time-worn themes: the monotony that lies in monogamy, and the question of life after death. But with Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen helming the cast, the burden of telling a story that’s often been told, repeatedly, becomes lighter and lighter. Once the premiere really starts rolling, you’re wondering less about what could go wrong with the premise, than the charming (and disarming) earnestness of our two protagonists, June (Rudolph) and Oscar (Armisen).
The premiere begins with something like a montage, and we’re treated to the progressions of a relationship. We watch as June and Oscar grow from new lovers, to unsteady partners, to a couple imbued with routine. The turn their lives have taken looks surprising, to both of them, until all of a sudden, slowly, it doesn’t — or at least not for June. The change is subtle, and it’s to Rudolph’s credit that the viewer has to really watch for it. Her husband’s sameness works for her, until it finally doesn’t. And, eventually, June broaches that subject with Oscar by suggesting they change their annual fishing trip to an impromptu skiing expedition.
Even if he’s slow to show it (even if he hardly shows it at all), that small change disagrees with Oscar on a number of levels, and we finally see just how much work June has cut out for her. First, he isn’t sure what’s so great about going somewhere new. Next, he’s not sure how he’ll explain their decision to anyone else. June is steady and measured in all of her responses, shepherding her husband through the fact that she just isn’t satisfied with their routine anymore (albeit, very kindly), and, eventually, he comes around to her request. When they explain the decision to their respective friends (one of whom, played by Kym Whitley, we’ll talk more about later on in the season), their responses mirror their respective perspectives: Oscar’s co-worker greets the change with a grunt, while June’s friend laments the sameness that a certain kind of cis-het marriage can produce over time.
But Oscar and June head out on their trip nonetheless. On the drive over, they debate the merits of bath-curating, masseuses, Jeopardy, and the ideal length of time for sex (both agree that 30 minutes is “a little long,” heh). And once they’ve arrived at the ski site, they’re greeted by an ungodly cold, which gives way to a less-than-ideal ski lesson from a group of teens, one of whom goes out of his way to pick on the couple. As they’re faced with these (relatively) minor inconveniences, bits and pieces of Oscar’s and June’s personalities slip through: Where Oscar remains measured, June peppers her dialogue with expletives. And yet, when they’re around each other, that sharpness recedes (it’s something to keep an eye on for later).
Even so, the ski lessons don’t go as planned. June is pushed by one of the younger skiers, and Oscar does a less-than-adequate job of helping her back on her feet. The couple retreats to the resort’s bar, and as they mull over the counter, the subject of kids arises. When Oscar rues actually having them, June points out that the reticence isn’t mutual. Her husband responds that he thought it was (looking genuinely shocked), and the conversation gives way to rockier territory — enough that they decide to give one another some space for the afternoon. While June heads to the bar for a glass of wine, Oscar dallies back onto the ski trails.
And that’s where the couple’s paths begin to diverge: While June’s sitting alone, minding her business, a nearby bro strikes up a conversation with her. It’s clear that she’s only indulging him (and his casual racism) out of boredom, but when the man gives June an out, she doesn’t take it. Flirting (if that’s what we’ll call it) is new for her. It’s certainly been a while. So June stays at the bar, with this man that she clearly isn’t interested in, and a grin works its way across her face.
Meanwhile, her husband’s got his hands full on the ski trail. It’s clear that he isn’t comfortable with the trip, or aware of exactly why June’s upset, but Oscar finds himself taking to the slopes on his own. As he starts to pick up some speed, a change washes over his face: He’s actually having fun. As the speed increases, he dodges an obstacle. And, for the briefest of moments, before the credits begin to roll, it looks like he just might be open to a little bit of change, eventually, and that there’s hope for Oscar and June’s future after all, but not before Oscar looks up from his reverie to find what looks like a split tree, right in front of him, while moving at a speed at which he can’t possibly stop himself.
At the end of the episode, we aren’t left with too many answers, or even questions, but there’s certainly a pair of definitive statements: For June, something has to change. She might very well make it happen herself. And for Oscar, the change he’d been so tentative about to begin with may have involuntarily acquainted itself with him on a ski slope, in the middle of nowhere, in the midst of a trip he’d been reluctant about in the first place.