- Amazon’s “Forever” premiered in early September, but the creators, stars, and TV critics were sworn to secrecy about the show’s plot.
- Business Insider spoke with series creators Alan Yang and Matthew Hubbard about keeping the show’s details secret, and what it was like pitching a show that has so much mystery surrounding it.
- Yang and Hubbard also talked about what it’s like making the transition from network comedies to streaming (they love how short the seasons are), and what it’s like to write for TV when there is so much of it.
Amazon’s comedy “Forever,” which premiered September 14, was presented to the public in a mysterious way.
Its trailer was more of a quirky montage of a relationship and didn’t explain the show’s plot at all. But even shrouded in mystery, the show has a huge draw. It stars Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph and Catherine Keener. It’s created by two great comedy writers: Alan Yang ( “Master of None”) and Matthew Hubbard (“30 Rock”).
In early September, I spoke to Yang and Hubbard about the show. But at the time, Amazon didn’t want the show’s mysterious plot leaked in reviews or profiles. So we waited a few weeks to let people get through the series.
WARNING: Heavy spoilers ahead for Amazon’s “Forever.”
At the end of the first episode of “Forever,” Fred Armisen’s character, Oscar, dies. In episode two, Maya Rudolph’s character, June, adjusts to life without her husband. By episode three, June’s made big changes in her life, including getting a new job in Hawaii. But at the end of the episode, she dies. June comes to and sees a very thrilled Oscar in a mysterious and very mid-century modern neighborhood in the afterlife, where she realizes she’ll spend forever with him.
But spending forever together isn’t as great as Oscar and June imagine. The married couple’s afterlives are still a bit dull, and they begin to learn things about each other that they didn’t even know while they were alive. For example, June finds out that, throughout their entire relationship, Oscar changed the way she loaded the utensils in the dishwasher.
I talked to Yang and Hubbard about keeping the premise a secret, how they pitched a show where the male lead dies in episode one, and how they distinguish their show from “The Good Place,” that other afterlife comedy that people are obsessed with right now.
Carrie Wittmer: I read your lovely note that Amazon sent journalists. You guys said that this show holds a really special place in your heart, could you talk about that?
Matthew Hubbard: When we put this show together, the first idea we had was ‘What if Fred and Maya were ghosts that don’t haunt people?’ That was really it … Then we were like that’s not enough, and then we started to talk about what would it be like if they were married, and what would happen if you were in a relationship, and it was literally never going to end … and what would that mean. It was just an idea that we talked about a lot, and when we got the writers in, everybody was talking about their relationships.
Alan Yang: And I think a lot of the best stuff comes from personal experience, right? We put elements of ourselves in the show. It’s set in the town I grew up in Riverside, and a lot of the marriage stuff is based on stuff from Matt’s life. For instance, that argument about the utensils in the dishwasher.
Wittmer: I’ve had that argument with my boyfriend.
Yang: Are you utensils up or utensils down?
Yang: Oh, yeah. Matt’s of the, “who cares camp.” So his wife was on him.
Wittmer: But my boyfriend changes it.
Yang: Oh yes.
Hubbard: He does change it?
Wittmer: Yep. Found out in a very similar way that June does on the show. Except I don’t think we’re dead.
Hubbard: What was cool and maybe special to us, we had this crazy swing, where you’re in a supernatural world, you’re in the afterlife, but we also kept trying to ground it in reality, and that’s hard and challenging but, you know, fun, and it was cool for us.
Wittmer: You’ve both been writing for television for a while now. What’s it like now that there are so many shows?
Yang: Too many.
Hubbard: Too many.
Yang: I was just saying in the last meeting that there is the Sean Penn show, a Jim Carey show, and a Kevin Costner show. I hadn’t heard of any of them until two days ago.
Hubbard: I just heard about “Yellowstone” [the Kevin Costner show], I thought you were kidding with me.
Wittmer: I haven’t even watched “Yellowstone.” I don’t have time to watch the Jim Carey show, I probably won’t have time to watch the Sean Penn show.
Hubbard: Well, thank you for watching this one!
Wittmer: I love all the shows both of you have done in the past. Do you feel some kind of pressure to have something truly unique and special in this time where there is just so much?
Yang: Ultimately, the idea is something you want to be passionate about and something you want to spend a big chunk of your time working on. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to have something hokey or a premise that people can talk about, right?
Hubbard: And the biggest thing was the premise of the show was a logical extension of the emotional story we wanted to tell.
Yang: It’s a relationship show. It’s a show about marriage, and longterm relationships. We want to do stuff that challenges us and is ambitious and original and unique, and to me, why do anything, regardless of how many shows are on TV, why do anything unless it’s something that hasn’t been done before? And I think taking that risk is worth it — you may fall on your face but, you know, why make new trends.
Wittmer: Were there any issues pitching this high concept?
Hubbard: We did this a little unusually. Because the show was so unique and so specific, we walked in and said “This is a show about a marriage,” and then we just told the story of the first three episodes. We just went literally beat by beat. A lot of execs at that point were like, “WHAT!?”
Wittmer: Both main characters die!
Yang: Exactly! Exactly. So that was really fun, and Maya and Fred came to all the pitches and so it was really fun.
Hubbard: It was kind of like proof of concept.
Yang: And we sold the show, so it worked!
Wittmer: Was there something specific about Amazon that made you decide to go with it?
Yang: It’s the kind of thing where it was the right place for it. And they came really hard and were willing to commit because we said, pretty much straight up, “If we’re not going straight to series, I don’t know if we’ll make the show.” Because a pilot makes no sense.
Wittmer: Yeah, because most people are probably gonna be like, “Well, I came to watch a Fred Armisen show but now he’s dead.”
Yang: Exactly. It didn’t really make sense to just shoot one. So Amazon was very, very aggressive and interested in the show immediately. They provided us with tremendous resources and they’ve been really supportive the whole way, so it’s been a great experience.
Wittmer: Has it been difficult for you to be so secretive about the plot?
Yang: Yes! I don’t know what to say in any interview.
Hubbard: It is hard especially when you get into marketing. It’s like… you want people to know about the show, but you also don’t. But everyone at Amazon just leaned into the mystery. That’s what we worked for really hard on that trailer, to just show that it was about a marriage, but there was some weird stuff out of context happening.
Wittmer: My favorite show on TV right now is “The Good Place,” and these have very similar premises but they’re so different.
Hubbard: Could not be more different.
Yang: They could not be more different. The tone and the themes are so different.
Wittmer: Did you have any push back with people saying something like, “Oh, there’s already another afterlife comedy?”
Yang: Not really. I mean, I know those guys, I love those guys, I directed those guys, and I’ve worked on that show a little, and I’ve obviously worked with Mike [Schur] a ton [Yang worked on ‘Parks and Recreation’]. So we knew early on there’s maybe a tiny overlap in the Venn diagram of the premise.
Wittmer: Very tiny. Afterlife comedy is my new favorite genre, I think.
Yang: Maya did a guest spot on “The Good Place.” And she was like, “Hey, does this step on this show?” And we said no, because they could not be more diametrically opposed. We felt good about that.
Hubbard: Yeah, we weren’t worried about that. We actually had some writers from “The Good Place,” just because we’d worked with them before.
Wittmer: Yeah, I noticed some familiar names like Joe Mande in the credits.
Yang: Some of the writers worked on “Parks and Rec” and “Master of None” with me. And they could tell us if there was any overlap, and we just didn’t do it.
Hubbard: The amazing thing is what they’re trying to contend with on “The Good Place,” the questions they’re trying to answer on that show, it helped us know we were dealing with a slightly different thing.
Wittmer: We talked about how much TV there is earlier. But what shows do you actually watch?
Hubbard: Oh man, I’m pretty swamped with stuff. I love “Atlanta,” obviously, that show is great. And I just finished watching “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” from a while ago. And that guy, who plays Andrew Cunanan, Darren Criss, is amazing.
Wittmer: That’s a great one. One of my favorites of the year so far. [Note: we spoke before “Versace” won multiple Emmys]
Yang: Have you ever watched “The Great British Baking Show?”
Wittmer: Oh my God, yes!
Yang: I think that’s my favorite.
Wittmer: I went to the beach Labor Day weekend, but all these new episodes came out, so.
Yang: Yeah, I know…
Wittmer: So I mostly did that.
Yang: Yeah, I love that show. F—ing love it.
Wittmer: I watch a show like that but then I complain. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I have too much TV to watch and it’s literally my job!”
Hubbard: The life of the TV Critic… it’s crazy. I can’t imagine what it’s like. Remember when there would be like six comedy shows and a few dramas?
Wittmer: Both of you have worked on network comedies. What are some of the differences working for streaming that you guys like?
Hubbard: Only having eight episodes.
Wittmer: The twenty-two episode a year tradition is kind of going away. It’s too much.
Hubbard: My big thing is not having commercials is huge. Any network show you can do, it’s going to be 21 minutes and 35 seconds. It is very hard to tell a story at the level of complexity that the audience demands now in 21 minutes. This new streaming world gives you some freedom that I think is really cool.
Yang: Yeah, freedom of time, freedom of space, all that stuff.
“Forever” is now available to stream over at Amazon with a Prime subscription.