Charles Dickens thought he was writing about the French Revolution in the opening line of “A Tale of Two Cities” but he could have just as easily been writing about modern day television.
The onset of streaming services has exploded the content landscape and producers of television have been released from the shackles of having to create content that will appeal to the masses. Now they can appeal to cliques of specific demographic groups — while always keeping in mind that whatever demographic that is targeted is economically viable to advertisers. Some things just never change. The result has been a flowering of sorts of good and interesting television. In many ways TV is now superior to movies — you can develop a character over 20-some hours of TV better than in the 90 minutes allotted for a film.
But with this flowering comes some weeds. Some of this good TV is morally dubious or an outright affront to precepts of a loving God with a plan for humanity. So there are times that, as a consumer of such faire, I find myself conflicted.
Lately I have been entranced, and conflicted, by a new offering on Amazon’s streaming service called “Forever.” It is formatted like a half-hour comedy and while there is a lot of humor in it, the episodes play out more like mini-movies than a traditional laugh-tracked imbued three-camera sitcom.
It stars Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph as a very quiet and set in their ways childless married couple. We see them doing the same things every year, the same vacation spot, the same anniversary meal, and it is apparent the wife is becoming disenchanted with things. Maya Rudolph and her TV husband Armisen are both brilliant. Their timing is impeccable, and they can be on screen in almost near silence and when they speak they say things that are excruciatingly trivial, but I’m riveted.
When the first episodes involves the death of the husband and the second episode concludes with the death of the wife, things really get moving.
Husband and wife are reunited in eternity, but it is far from paradise. First point of conflict for me. I don’t believe the creators of this show had an agenda to show a God-less eternity… I think their main purpose was to use an afterlife as a literary device to delve deeper into a marriage that is stuck in a polite, quiet, and never confrontational rut and a marriage the wife, even in life, was beginning to question and now in death, is moving toward full fledged separation.
But being the good Catholic that I am, I felt unease watching this strange version of everlasting life. Granted, I would probably have felt just as awkward and uncomfortable if they had tried to create heaven like a supernatural world with a God figure… I think they did that later in the series with actor Peter Weller, but for the most part, the life the married couple find themselves in after death looks a lot like the life they found themselves in when they were going about their daily, worldly routines. In other words, it seemed like a version of hell to me — again, a theological contemplation I do not believe the creators were making.
A brief exchange in the first episode, when the couple was alive, revolves around their childless status. There is a true note of melancholy over this fact, but just when you think that is going to be developed further, it is dropped. Too bad. It would have made them more interesting and it might have hit a nerve to other such couples.
But one gets the feeling the creators of “Forever” don’t see rejection of children as a “thing.” At most, they seem to just want to acknowledge that a woman might feel somewhat regretful of her “choice” to not conceive.
But what can we expect from a show with a God-less heaven, Peter Weller’s creepy character notwithstanding? There just doesn’t seem to be any room at the writer’s table for the Almighty or for universal truths in this universe. Still the show is fascinating to watch. So as far as TV goes, I guess it is the best of times as well as the worst of times…my apologies to Mr. Dickens.
Robert Brennan is a weekly columnist for Angelus online and in print. He has written for many Catholic publications, including National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He spent 25 years as a television writer, and is currently the Director of Communications for the Salvation Army California South Division.
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