The strangest thing about reviewing “Forever” is that I can’t really talk about “Forever.” I can’t even tell you whether Amazon’s intriguing new half-hour show is a romantic comedy, a drama, or both mixed together.
Starring Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen, “Forever” depends on a few giant plot twists that absolutely cannot be revealed. For one thing, Amazon has strictly warned critics not to divulge them, and for another thing, I would genuinely hate to spoil the wonderful surprises waiting for you as the premise shifts along the way. “Forever” starts in an expected place and winds up somewhere very different, and that’s a critical part of the joy of the show. There’s not much I can say specifically about what happens between episodes one and eight. A long list of vague non sequitur observations — there’s a great scene in a big box store, there’s a great episode in an empty house — would be pointless.
I can tell you that Rudolph and Armisen play June and Oscar, a married couple who are completely cozy with each other. In an opening montage, we see the early arc of their relationship, as they meet, date, and marry, and it’s sweet if bland. They seem like a perfect match, conducting endearingly inane conversations like goofy best friends. They live according to established patterns, with Oscar in particular a creature of habit, and they enjoy that predictable approach to life.
I can also tell you that June is beginning to tire of the routine, regardless of the comfort it offers. That’s the nut of the show — the limitations of comfort — and Rudolph brings June’s growing but subdued discontent to the surface with subtlety. She is a likable comic — just thinking of her Donatella Versace on “Saturday Night Live” makes me smile — but she has a way with dramatic undercurrents (“Away We Go”) that nicely grounds June. It’s June’s decision that the couple ought to try something new in the premiere episode, a move that sends a long line of dominos tumbling.
Armisen, who was the Prince to her Beyoncé on “SNL,” is just right as her passive partner, a guy who embraces his rut. Their history working together brings an instant sense of familiarity to their relationship. At first, Armisen comes off a bit like a one-dimensional “Portlandia” character, but later in the story, he has more of an opportunity to show us what’s lurking underneath Oscar’s stubborn apathy. The supporting actors are also well-chosen and well-used. Catherine Keener brings a shot of life as an angry neighbor, Kym Whitley is a kick as one of June’s friends, and Noah Robbins excels as an obnoxious teenager.
“Forever” is created by Alan Yang (“Master of None”) and Matt Hubbard (“30 Rock”), and they clearly know what they want to say with their idiosyncratic story. They’re inviting us to think about marriage and change, along with other themes I’m not going to name, and their control over the entire season is admirable.
I will say that some of their tonal choices feel too precious, particularly when they mimic the tedium they are addressing in the scripts. I’m afraid some of the early pacing and downbeats, meant to let us feel June and Oscar’s world, may drive some of the curious away. You could almost think the show is annoyingly elusive, until you see exactly where it’s going. You know, that place that I am not going to describe.
Starring: Maya Rudolph, Fred Armisen, Catherine Keener, Noah Robbins, Kym Whitley
On: Amazon; first eight-episode season available FridayMatthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.