Surprise isn't really a thing with television shows anymore. The show gets made, it gets the hell promoted out of it, critics watch it and say their part, the creators gab about it with anyone who will listen, and by the time the series actually makes its way to viewers, just about everything about it is already known and out there somewhere. This is old-school marketing, and it's the way TV has done it for decades. But it also sucks.
Sure, it's nice to be able to plan out your week by knowing what's ahead, but ignorance is actually the best state to be in when watching television. The less you know about a show, the more of a ride you get to go on when watching the series. Television is written so that each minute matters and any time spent repeating what the viewer already knows is a waste. Take, for instance, the trailer for NBC's upcoming medical drama New Amsterdam.
That's the entire pilot. I know, because I've seen it. You no longer need to watch the first episode of New Amsterdam. You just saved yourself an hour. Every plot point is right there, condensed into three minutes. Even the episode's big twist ending — Dr. Ryan Eggold has cancer! — was proudly announced months before the show's premiere.
But some television shows have taken the opposite approach to promotion, and in this "what's new is already old" age of Twitter and an abundance of options, sometimes less is more. Showtime's most talked-about show since ever, Who Is America?, was kept top secret until less than a week before its premiere. Netflix — which is shaking up how companies promote television — kept the premiere date of the second season of one of its most popular franchises, 13 Reasons Why, inside its offices until less than three weeks before it premiered, spiking interest in the show among its fans and the press. And in the most extreme case, Netflix ran a Super Bowl ad letting people know the new Cloverfield movie was available immediately without anyone knowing the movie was even coming. Now that's a drop.
The latest to take promotion to the depths of the unknown is Amazon's comedy Forever, which has only delivered a vague trailer and an even vaguer logline since is announcement. What we know is that Forever stars Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph as a married couple whose routine relationship is thrown for a loop when they decide to take a ski trip together. Creators Alan Yang (Master of None) and Matt Hubbard (Parks and Recreation) have respectfully asked press with access to advanced screeners to not give out any more details about the show, which is why this review of the show has turned into a piece about why secretive marketing is such a great idea nowadays, and doesn't include anything more about the plot than what's above.
But I've seen the entire eight-episode first (and possibly only) season of Forever — going in knowing just as much as you do about the show — and not knowing anything made the experience a million times better than it would have had I known any more. There's a ton of mystery to the show that's built into the storytelling that otherwise would be obliterated if the logline went five words further. You'll scratch your head at the end of Episode 1 and by the end of Episode 2, things will become much clearer about where the show is going. And then Forever takes even more fun turns. That is what made Forever one of the more enjoyable watches I've had this year.
What I can tell you, and what you can glean from the appropriately uninformative trailer, is that Forever looks at relationships and love and the questions we have about our current situations. It's one of the most honest examinations of marriage I've seen on television, particularly between people in their 40s, and covers a lot of the uncomfortable topics that most TV ignores in order to tell its fairy tales despite itself being very whimsical. And though the show is packed with surprises, it's smartly anchored by the very real questions of fate and relationships which cast a cloud of reality over its quirkiness and ties everything together.
I think I can let you in on the feel of the show, so here goes. Forever is very much indie-bait — not a surprise given Yang's great work on Master of None — in that its visual style appears to be inspired by Wes Anderson and his ilk. It also features a pair of earthy, honest performances from Rudolph and Armisen, who balance making their characters plain laypeople while also giving their conversations a certain relatable spice. There's a good chance you will become paranoid about what's going on in your partner's head, and then you'll double back and realize why they are perfect for you. It's an intellectual comedy that's simultaneously playful.
And though not perfect — some branches of the story don't bloom fully, and there's an episode that deviates from the structure and I'm still trying to decide whether I liked it or not — Forever is an enlightening journey into the unknown. Ignorance is most certainly bliss. Give it a watch, but don't peek.
Forever begins streaming Friday, Sept. 14 on Amazon.