Tuesday, 11 December 2018

random mixtape - no one is born to hate.

Bradley Harms - Like Velvet!

kira puru | molotov. soccer mommy | cool. courtney barnett | hopelessness. mitski | remember my name. cat power | moaning lisa | carrie. lucy dacus | the shell. snail mail | golden dream. laura jane grace & the devouring mothers | amsterdam hotel room. carb on carb | home again 2. cat power | in your face. mitski | me and my husband. burial | indoors

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Das Lied zum Sonntag

Courtney Barnett - Nameless, Faceless (on Tell Me How You Really Feel)

I wanna walk through the park in the dark
Men are scared that women will laugh at them
I wanna walk through the park in the dark
Women are scared that men will kill them
I hold my keys
Between my fingers

Friday, 30 November 2018

Reading List: November


Gillian Flynn: Sharp Objects. 
Hsu-Ming Teo: Behind the Moon.
Hsu-Ming Teo: Love and Vertigo.
Sally Rooney: Normal People. 
Lauren Karcz: The Gallery of Unfinished Girls.
Jessica Verdi: The Summer I Wasn't Me.
Dana Mele: People Like Us.
Cristina Moracho: A Good Idea.
Jane B. Mason: Without Annette.
Ottessa Moshfegh: My Year of Rest and Relaxation.


The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018, Desiree Akhavan).
Gone Girl (2014, David Fincher).


The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Season One.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Sabrina: I want freedom and power. 
Prudence: He will never give you that. The Dark Lord. The thought of you, of any of us, having both terrifies him. 
Sabrina: Why is that? 
Prudence: He’s a man, isn’t he?
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, starring Kiernan Shipka in the titular role, is based on the same source material as the 1990s sitcom Sabrina the Teenage witch, but turns the comic books (which are set in the same universe as Archie, and therefore Riverdale) into an entirely different beast than what preceded it. It is a genre-switched adaptation, not unlike Riverdale an ambitious riff on the idea of making something for people who may have watched or read previous versions in their childhoods and early teens but are now ready to for a darker reinterpretation. "Darker", in both cases, doesn't just mean literally more brutal and erotic than something made for children could ever be, but also more psychologically twisted, and much more interested in class and power structures than could be easily conveyed in a half-hour long sitcom starring Melissa Joan-Hart. Since I've never had the chance to read the comic books, I'm not sure if Chilling Adventures of Sabrina takes kernels of potential and develops them eloquently into what they could have been without the necessary self-censorship of a younger audience or an idea of mass-appeal - much like Battlestar Galactica, years ago, took a campy show and turned it on its feet to become much more than the original show ever was. In any case, this is what Sabrina succeeds at - being a show about gender and power and people, especially women, struggling for freedom and power in both the real and the magical realm. 

What makes this first season of the show so interesting isn't really that it tells the story of the magical realm being really a patriarchy set up in a way to specifically benefit the male leaders, as symbolised by Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle), who rewrites the rules of Satan (who appears in dream sequences, but never visibly intervenes against his representative, giving him a free reign to interpret his wishes as he requires) to lead a cushy life among his predominantly female coven. All of those things are predictable to an extent, as is the foundational crime that the coven committed against thirteen witches in the witch-hanging days of Greendale, one that comes to literally haunt them in the climax of the season. The surprise twist in Sabrina is how much the earthly realm mirrors the twisted power relations of the magical one, how much the other world open to Sabrina, since she is a half-witch who exists in both realms, is just as twisted and broken as Father Blackwood's Church of Night. 

Sabrina, on the crisp of her sixteenth birthday, has to make a choice between the life she has always known - living with her Aunts Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto) after the death of both her parents, going to Greendale's local highschool with her best friends, Susie (Lachlan Watson) and Roz (Jaz Sinclair), making future plans with her boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch) - or fulfilling her destiny, signing her name in the book of Satan, joining the Church of Night, and resuming her education in Father Blackwood's Academy of the Unseen Arts. It's a difficult decision to make, especially because her friends and boyfriend do not know that Sabrina is a witch, and she can't bring herself to tell them. The decision is made even harder when Sabrina gets a hint of how much her friends will struggle if she leaves them behind, especially Susie, who is brutally bullied for not fitting the narrow gender roles of Baxter High's social hierarchy. The situation is made worse by the fact that Baxter's principal is unwilling to help, and props up a system in which minority students suffer while the bullies, who are all on the football team, thrive. Sabrina tries to use her powers to protect her friend, but she realises that none of that - nor the foundation of WICCA, a feminist after-school club, will be sufficient to make sure that Susie and Roz are okay after she leaves. 

At the same time, the world that would open to Sabrina if she signed her name is tempting because of the power it offers, but as riddled with issues as Baxter High is. Sabrina, even before setting foot in the Academy, is dream-bullied by the Weird Sisters (led by Prudence, played by Tati Gabrielle, one of the several outstanding performances), who hate her for not being a pure-blood witch. The more she gets to know the realm, the more she discovers how problematic it is, and how differently Father Blackwood is leading the Church compared to the reformist ideas that her father, who was in his position before he passed, pursued when he was trying to change the Church. Familiars are considered servants, not partners (to refute that idea, Sabrina looks for a volunteer, and finds on in Salem, who is more useful than the original Salem but also doesn't talk, in part because Cousin Ambrose fulfils some of his narrative function). It's not just the strict hierarchy, or the fact that Father Blackwood has gotten away with cheating on his wife, and fathering children outside of his marriage - it's also that he is reinstating truly troublesome rituals, such as the annual sacrifice of a willing witch, to be eaten by her fellow coven in celebration of a historical event. 

Sabrina isn't just horrified by the ritual, but by the fact that her Aunt Zelda seems reluctant to condemn it as the barbaric, medieval crime that it is. This is the same Church that has condemned her cousin Ambrose to an almost century-long house arrest and is keeping her father's teachings under lock-and-key lest it should give aspiring witches and warlocks the wrong ideas about how the Church is set up. 
All the while, there are forces very interested in winning Sabrina over for Satan - most of all, her beloved teacher Mary, who is much changed after a whole different creature kills her and takes over her skin. She sets a complex play into motion meant to alienate Sabrina from her friends and from Harvey, one that ultimately escalates into a predictably doomed attempt to bring back Harvey's brother, dead after two of the Weird Sisters take revenge on him for being born into a family of Witch Hunters, from the dead. Predictably, what comes back from the mines isn't Harvey's brother, but an empty shell of a person, devoid of a soul, and what needs to be done to right the wrong Sabrina has committed, to balance the scales, is utterly horrible, especially for gentle Harvey.

In all of her focus on figuring out what she is meant to do, Sabrina misses out on understanding her friends' struggles - Harvey, the son of a mine owner who despises him for what he sees as weaknesses (an artistic talent, a fear of the mines, ambitions to leave Greendale), Susie who is trying to figure out who she is and stumbles over along family history of women and men who defied gender roles, and are deeply entwined in the history of Greendale, and Roz, who has inherited a genetic blindness but finds out from her grandmother that her loss of vision comes with a supernatural gift that gives her the ability to see way beyond human vision. These smaller struggles, which all come together in the climax of the season, are some of the most interesting aspects of the narrative, and seeing Harvey, Susie and Roz rise to their individual challenges without the comfort of relying on magic, or powerful aunts and cousins to help them, makes them into some of the strongest characters the show has (yes, that includes Harvey, who starts off pretty much the same way that Sabrina the Teenage Witch's Harvey does, but ends up in a much more interesting place).

The central issue of Sabrina's life and the pivotal moment, the decision between signing the book or not signing the book, is being able to make her own choices - not the choices that have been laid out for her, since she was born, when her mother and father made very opposing decisions about her fate. Sabrina wants to be able to see and judge for herself where she belongs, and for a while, she gets to have her cake and eat it too - wandering both realms, going to both schools, free to exist with humans and with witches. It's a compromise that can't last, especially because there are so many forces warring for her power (and in the end, the core evil in Sabrina, much like in Harry Potter, isn't some central villain, but the very idea that someone's fate lies in the hands of adults, who end up being utterly careless about it, setting Sabrina up for higher tasks, willing to sacrifice her, but in any case, giving her no choice in the matter). In the end, the choice she makes is based on her love for her friends and for Harvey - she signs the book, to protect Greendale and those beloved people that live in it, but the show would be less of a success, would be much less ambitious, if it didn't also hint at the seductive beauty of holding power, the same thing that drew Sabrina to believe that she could trick death on a technicality. In the end, she still wants both power and freedom, and we'll see in the show's bright future how that'll turn out for her.

In short, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has many ideas, and executes some of them brilliantly, some of them less so, but all-in-all I have greater hopes that it will not go up into the same chaotic mess that Riverdale (which is very interested in taking cliches and twisting them, and at its most interesting when it discovers dormant beasts in princesses) imploded into since its first season. 

2018, created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, starring Kiernan Shipka, Jaz Sinclair, Lachlan Watson, Tati Gabrielle, Ross Lynch, Lucy Davis, Miranda Otto, Chance Perdomo, Michelle Gomez, Richard Coyle.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

“The afternoon my parents died, I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson.”
This is how Emily M. Danforth’s novel starts. Cameron at this stage is just out of childhood, and she loses her parents the same day that a dare with her best friend Irene opens up a whole new world to her. It’s an unfortunate coincidence that Cameron’s first kiss with another girl ends with the trauma of losing her parents, as the guilt of that moment, and the question of whether her parents’ death was somehow a punishment by god for her behaviour, haunts her for the rest of her youth. 
Desiree Akhavan’s adaptation never shows us this moment. In fact, nearly all of the details of Cameron’s youth in Montana’s Miles City, which take up about two thirds of the novel, are missing from the film. 
What Desiree Akhavan does achieve, in spite of only focusing on a narrow part of Danforth’s novel, is still remarkable. She creates a foundational trauma that happens in a flash of quickly-paced scenes, Cameron (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz, somehow perfectly cast for this) and Coley (Quinn Shephard, a few years ago very impressive with a short but memorable stint on Person of Interest) stumbling, kissing against walls, stealing moments away together, in secret, until they are finally discovered by Cameron’s homecoming-date and best friend Jamie after having sex in a car. There’s no need to really hear what happens after, because we can guess, even without having read the book: Jamie, making horrified noises while Cam tries to put her clothes back on and Coley weeps in the car, inconsolable, ashamed, Cam being sat down by her Aunt Ruth, and then, Cam being taken away to God’s Promise, an evangelical conversion therapy centre. 

We don’t really know much about Cam at this point in the film, while she is well-established in the book, and it’s hard to judge how this moment of horror would play out for someone who isn’t familiar with Cameron Post from Danforth’s writing. In the book, it’s the culmination of her low-key struggle with Aunt Ruth, who comes to raise her after her parents’ death because her grandmother isn’t really able to do it by herself, as kind and gentle as she is with Cameron’s identity and grief. Aunt Ruth means well, which is probably the worst part of it, because Cameron prior to that point has been raised in an agnostic household and now has to cope with a re-born evangelical Christian who thinks she is saving her niece’s soul by making her go to Church, church group, and eventually, the conversion camp. There is no ill-intent in this, or even hatred, just an utterly and horribly misguided love. 
Cameron herself is – sarcastic, stubborn, questioning. She takes what she’s learned about herself with first best friend Irene Klauson to the same place that so many other queer kids have taken their questions – film -  and educates herself via her small town’s videostore (because the book, and the film for that matter, are set in the early Nineties), sharpening her sense on classic film Personal Best. She runs wild with her best friends (so many scenes in the book are memorably set in an abandoned hospital building, and some of the allure of it comes from how free these kids are to do with their days more or less as they wish, without much parental supervision). She swims competitively and meets a gay girl who is about to move to the Pacific Northwest, and will send her dispatches in the form of letters, phone calls and riot grrrl mixtapes from a world where it seems so much easier to be gay. Cam soaks all of it up, and tries to find meaning, in a way, between her attempts to comprehend how it relates to her parents’ death and to being in a small town, trying to shape an identity, until she falls in love with Coley. 

I think it’s worth knowing all of this while watching the film, I think it adds to the layers and layers, as much as the film works on its own. It adds to know how falling in love with Coley feels to Cameron like a bomb going off, an inevitable time bomb that will blow everything apart. Lindsey, her gay friend, from far away cautions her not to go after a straight girl, but Cam can’t help herself (plus Coley isn’t exactly straight, just scared out of her mind). In the book, she seduces her by using The Hunger (in the film, it’s Donna Deitch's beautiful drama Desert Hearts, in both cases it’s good they never make it to the end). Like in the film, they get caught, and Cam is the one paying the price, the one carrying the burden, the one sent off to the conversion camp. 

A lot of the complexities of Cameron at this point are hard to convey in a film that mostly relies on sparse and predominantly sarcastic dialogue between its main characters as well as facial expressions to tell its story. In the novel, Cameron narrates her own story, and she is particularly good at capturing how seasons, weather and landscape play into people’s behaviour – especially kids who are still in school, who come to life during summer holidays. When she arrives at God’s Promise she is shell-shocked – the moment when she and Coley got caught in the car replays a few times, in particular Coley’s refusal to be comforted, and Cameron’s guilt because she thinks that she made her do something she didn’t want to. Since the film doesn’t have the connection between Cameron’s realisation that she is gay and the death of her parents, it uses the guilt over having seduced Coley to turn Cameron into a character who isn’t entirely opposed to the teachings of God’s Promise. It’s the same position the occupies in the book – somewhere between the kids who are there believing deeply and profoundly that they are wrong, and require healing, and the kids who know they are only there because their parents are wrong and misguided, that they only have to survive long enough, or play the game, to be free again. It would be much easier to watch a character interrogate the teachings of God’s Promise from the start, refusing the buy into it entirely – like Cameron’s soon-to-be friends Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane, as perfectly aloof and cool as Jane Fonda is in the book) and Adam do, who have created their own little community of ditch-weed smoking survivors of Dr. Lydia’s heinous teachings. We don’t see too much of that teaching on the screen, the main part is the theory of the iceberg, according to which gayness is only the part of the problem that is obvious to the eye, whereas the majority of the kids’ issues remain buried under the sea, and require (for the most part, profoundly traumatising) inspection before they can hope to overcome their SSA. Cameron is curious enough about that part that she investigates everyone else’s iceberg, trying to understand everyone along the lines of Rick and Lydia’s interpretation of their identity, trying to fill in her own iceberg to understand herself. In the novel, the iceberg fits in well with Cameron’s previous attempt at finding a metaphor for her complex inner life – after her parents’ death, she starts to decorate a dollhouse from her childhood with found and stolen objects, but maybe in 2018, after Sharp Objects, it’s for the better that this detail didn’t make it into Akhavan’s film. 

Since this is 1993, Cameron doesn’t really have the same luxury of being able to just refute the claims of Reverend Rick and his much easier to hate sister Dr. Lydia from the start. As much as Jane and Adam attempt to make her understand that there are other villains in her story – Coley, for one, once she figures out that she was the one who ratted her out, not her friend Jamie – there is still a part of Cameron driven by guilt that buys into some of the thing that God’s Promise is selling, even if she isn’t as completely convinced by it as her room-mate Erin and some of the other kids are. It’s so easy for Rick and Lydia to sell the idea that being gay is wrong because it matches what the kids have heard from the people who’ve sent them there – who are meant to love them unconditionally, and care for them – and because in 1993, it would’ve been easier to argue that having a family, and living a life not burdened with adversity and conflict, is easier when you’re straight. 
It takes a while for Cameron to catch on to the fact that Rick and Lydia have absolutely no idea what they are doing, that their hack-psychology isn’t cut out to deal with actual crises, that their limited conception of self and personhood creates an atmosphere in which someone will inevitably break, even more so because some of these children weren’t sent there by loving parents or guardians who wanted the best for them, but hateful and despicable irresponsible people who want what they think is evil cut out of their children, with no regard to their mental and physical well-being. The most horrible moment in the film is taken directly from the book – it’s when Mark (Owen Campbell, absolutely remarkable in the role), the poster boy for the camp’s success, a kid who passionately quotes scripture, believes profoundly in the teachings, and is so lovable and compassionate on the phone that he brings in most of the donations finds out that his father is still refusing to let him come home because he remains too effeminate. Distressed, he quotes scripture in group therapy that makes it clear how much he has been made to hate himself. Rick and Lydia, utterly incompetent, leave him alone, and he severely hurts himself. 

It’s a horrible moment in which Cameron finally realises that these people who are meant to be responsible for the children under their care are not capable of caring for them, that these amateurs do not know what they are doing. Ironically, an investigator is sent to question the kids about the conditions in the camp (the man tells her, point-blank, that he is there to investigate practices, not judge the intent behind it). He asks if she trusts the Rick and Lydia, if she believes that they have her best interest at heart, and Cameron can’t even begin to put into words how impossible that question is to answer in the affirmative. Rick and Lydia and the culture their represent are tasked with destroying any sense of self-possession and self-knowledge, any sense of true identity, that the kids have, and Mark’s fate is only the most jarring example of what happens when those things are taken away from a person. 

A more quiet moment, and one that I’m so glad has made it from the page into the film, is between Erin and Cameron. The film, like the book, very intentionally plays Erin the Viking (Emily Skeggs doing perfect magic) up for laughs – her obsession with a sports team, her narrative of herself as being gay because she is too much into sports, and bonded with her dad over it, her earnestness in trying to become straight, her attempts to become more fit to hilarious “Blesserzise” videotapes. Cameron is so caught up in her blooming friendship with Adam and Jane Fonda and trying to make sense of her remaining feelings for Coley that she completely misses the many moments where it’s pretty clear how much Erin cares for her – until Erin literally leaps on her, after Cam has a vivid sex dream, to try and save her from having evil thoughts until she changes her mind and makes her come instead. She still insists, after, that she wants to become straight, that she wants a “normal” life, except it’s so clear, in everything she does, that she likes Cameron too much. It’s like a transformation happens in those few minutes, where Erin goes from a character played for laughs to turning into a whole complex sexual being (who responds to Cameron, after she says that she really didn’t see it coming, that it is because she didn’t think of her that way – and she sounds like she deeply wants to be thought of that way), where she gloriously triumphs over all the moments where anyone would’ve made fun of her for being too much into God. The fact that God’s Promise is trying to eradicate this spirit and passion out of her is as much proof of its failings at basic humanity as Mark’s horrible act of self-destruction is. 

This is why The Miseducation of Cameron Post is at its best when it reminds us that the kids trapped at God’s Promise are exactly that, teenagers who are trying to make sense of themselves, who become gloriously themselves when they are finally able to turn a radio to a non-Christian-rock radio station and sing “What’s Going On” together (perfect, in a way, after Sense8 two years ago). God’s Promise is trying to break them down so it can more successfully instil its hideous ideology – another horrible moment is when Lydia cuts off Adam’s (Forrest Goodluck) beautiful hair, an act of pure hatred against his identity that refuses to be shaped into evangelical Christian shapes. Rick and Lydia’s agenda ultimately has to fail because the sheer amount of life, of passion, of desire for freedom that refuses to be beaten or prayed out of Adam, Jane Fonda and Cam will carry them into a life far away from this horror. At least that’s the note the film ends on – the three of them, riding away from God’s Promise in the back of a pick-up truck, playfully and freely flirting with a real life of their own. 
It’s a much less ambiguous ending than Danforth’s novel, which, because it starts the way it does, ends with Cameron swimming the lake in which her parents perished, attempting to make sense of how her loss and her grief connect to how and whom she loves. In both cases, it would have been wasted time to prosecute the institutions we already know are evil, and it is glorious to see instead a celebration of those who successfully overcome, simply by being free. 

2018, directed by Desiree Akhavan, starring Chloƫ Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, Emily Skeggs, Owen Campbell, John Gallagher Jr., Quinn Shephard, Jennifer Ehle.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Reading List: October.


Nicole Chung: All You Can Ever Know. A Memoir.


Robin Talley: What We Left Behind. 
Ling Ma: Severance. 
Eve Babitz: Sex and Rage.
Florence Gonsalves: Love & Other Carnivorous Plants. 
Claire O'Dell: A Study in Honor. 
Claire G. Coleman: Terra Nullius.
Nina LaCour: Everything Leads to You.


Thoroughbreds (2017, Cory Finley).
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018, Peyton Reed).
Sorry to Bother You (2018, Boots Riley).


American Vandal, Season Two.
Forever, Season One.
The Haunting of Hill House, Season One.
Nikita, Season One.
Sharp Objects, Season One.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Forever in the Good Place

 The real question, Eleanor, is what do we owe to each other?

It takes Forever more than one episode to reveal where it is going – it starts as a show about a woman who may be considering divorce, or some other radical change in her life, to being a show about a woman attempting to find a hold on life after the passing of her husband of many years, due to a tragic accident caused by her attempts to change the routines of their marriage, to a show about a woman who has died, and found her husband in the afterlife, and instead of pondering the meaning of it, finds herself in precisely the same routines that she was trying to break to start off with. It’s a circle, for June (an absolutely fantastic Maya Rudolph, finally starring in her own show), that begins and ends in the suburbs, except these new suburbs are no longer the sub- to any existing urban area, and the day-to-day life with her loving husband, Oscar (Fred Armisen) is now, presumably, going to continue on forever. 

is about what it means to spend a lifetime with another person, by extending that period of time into an assumed eternity not bounded by death. It is an interesting way to ask that question, considering that June and Oscar are so different, and at very different points in their life when they pass. Oscar seems endlessly content with the life they have built, the comfort and quiet loveliness of their routines, the care that he puts into everything he does. It may seem boring from the outside, but it comes with a warmth that is later perfectly translated into the architecture and interior design of their forever home, which presumably perfectly represents the meaning of their marriage. June has moments – from the first episode on – where she seems to ponder the life that could lie beyond these routines, beyond having the same meal lovingly cooked and prepared for her over and over again, beyond going to the same lake house for their shared holiday. It isn’t that she doesn’t love Oscar – it’s a more profound question about whether this is all her life holds for her. She attempts to break out of it by suggesting a ski holiday that costs Oscar’s life (this is still a comedy, so it seems almost inevitable that Oscar will find some kind of tragic end, considering how unprepared either of them are to face the slopes) while June is off flirting with her old life, and a guy who looks like the many guys she dated (and who treated her poorly) before she met Oscar. 

A year after the passing of her husband (a reveal that is interestingly handled here, as a conversation leaves is open whether it was a divorce – something that could have been the result of what we’ve seen before just as well – until June is made to spell it out for a sales assistant) June is trapped in the same life she had before, minus the warmth that Oscar provided. She hasn’t begun anything new, instead she hates her job and consumes single-serve individually packaged wine glasses on her couch. Her friend tries to zap her out of her depression, but it doesn’t work. She tries to break out herself, but eventually runs away before a life-changing job interview. It seems absurd that she ends up being offered that precise job a few days later, when all the other people in her company are convicted of fraud – an unlikely, cosmic coincidence, the kind of event sure to free her from the cage of her grief and inability to move on – except on the way to her new life in Hawai’i, June chokes on a macadamia nut and dies. 

Lives cut short by hilarious and unexpected deaths is one of the gimmicks that The Good Place, another after-life show, uses, and in both shows, one of the main features of the characters awakening after their sometimes embarrassing (mundane freak accidents) deaths is their lack of grief over the life they have lost, because in a way, the life they encounter after death is either better, or not much different, than the one that they had before. June finds Oscar, who has been waiting for her, in a small suburb that looks like the world they are both used to, but where everyone else hasn’t been given the chance to enjoy eternity with a partner. Nothing in her life is changed significantly from before, when they were both alive-married – they still have the same rituals and routines, day-in-and day out, except that this spells out eternal happiness for Oscar, while for June, a sense of being unfulfilled creeps in even more than it did when they were still alive. 

The core question at the centre, and the heart, of Forever is one of balance between the challenge and excitement of the new, of constantly learning more about yourself and growing as a person, and the comfort and happiness of sharing a life – a life set in its ways – with a partner. June never answered this for herself when she was alive, and because she never confronted it – or because Oscar never let her, always avoiding those conversations – she has brought these issues with her, in their presumed happy forever. Oscar is perfectly content to do the same things every day because he enjoys those things, while June finds every activity that is endlessly repeated boring, especially because she gets good at new things so quickly. 
Every decision for something, or someone, is always a decision against all the other possible paths. June is now confronted with the idea that those decisions that she made will carry her into a forever, that she will never have the opportunity to question who she could have been had she not chosen to be the person who is with Oscar over all the other people she could have been. Oscar doesn’t ask the same question (in part because he isn’t the focus of this story, but also because he is fulfilled in this life, so he doesn’t want to change it, or himself). Their shared new life in this forever – in Riverside – is like an even more concentrated, focused version of their life before, with all outside distractions removed. Except – not entirely – because soon, a new neighbour moves in next to them and she seems to magnetise June. 

I’m still undecided if the character of Kase (Catherine Keener) works, considering that her main purpose in Forever is to be Oscar’s opposite. Where he is warm and gentle, she is offputting and radical. Where he is quiet and content, Kase rages against the restrictions of Riverside, or the idea that the afterlife should be an even more boring version of what her life already was. It may even be worse considering that Forever isn’t the story of Oscar and June, but merely of June, so both Oscar and Kase only exist to offer June two radically different versions of how life could be lived much in the way in which Riverside and the newly revealed Other Possible Place Oceanside are presented as two radically different models of dealing with memory and identity. 

Riverside is nostalgia, is repetitiveness, but also the comfort of the known. Oceanside – where all roads lead – is forgetting the past, but also all that tethered a person there, including other people. It’s a radical experiment in finding the new boundaries of existence post-life, instead of cultivating the same interests and activities of before. Where the inhabitants of Riverside trim their roses, mow their lawns, and play endless games of lawn bowl, the people in Oceanside jump in front of trucks and set their faces on fire. It doesn’t make much difference either way – because nothing ever changes – but the new experiences turn Oceansiders into people who are letting go of their lives before, who are forgetting who they’ve lost, who are embracing this other, new life. This doesn’t make them better people – in Forever, they come across as the arrogant aristocracy compared to the boring suburbanites of Riverside – but they do offer a very different life to June, after she decides to leave Oscar and find out what her attraction to Kase and all she represents means.

Not that this attraction is explored in any meaningful way beyond offering an opportunity for Oscar’s best new friend in the afterlife (a teenager who died tragically in the Seventies, and is forever stuck there) to tease him about his wife’s gayness, because the idea that this could be the thorn in June’s side, the thing that has that made her marriage even before both their deaths into an increasingly subtly unsatisfying  affair, isn’t really where the show is going with this at all. Kase does represent a path that June never chose, but it is more in regards to herself – allowing herself to embrace new talents, to explore, to try new things – than in choosing Kase as a partner. In a way, it always seems inevitable that June will come around, at some point, to the idea that the true issue with her marriage has always been not taking Oscar seriously, or not allowing him to be the resourceful person that he always was. 

I think the most beautiful story that Forever manages to tell isn’t about June and Oscar at all – it’s about Sarah and Andre, two real estate agents who meet each other at the wrong time of both of their lives, who are meant to be together but keep missing each other, until it is too late. They discuss the great issues – whether marriage should be forever, two people fixing what is broken and growing with each other or one person, unrestricted by forever bonds to be whatever they can be in life – wether humanity is ultimately moving towards better, or worse – and they would clearly make each other happy, except it doesn’t happen that way, because it’s not the path that they end up choosing. The episode doesn’t answer the question of whether they were still happy in the lives they did choose – they seem to keep finding each other, regardless. It also never answers the question of whether Andre would have found June waiting for him, or if they both would have been with their spouses, in an afterlife like June’s and Oscar’s, or if, like everyone else in Riverside, they would have been on their own. 

The Good Place has a much wider scope in interrogating what it means to be a good person, and the limits of changing and becoming different. I think ultimately, in both cases, it isn’t just about what we owe to each other, or that we exist in part as a reflection in other people’s minds, but also, about what we owe to ourselves, in the sense or remaining open and capable of change and growth. The Good Place is at its best when it portrays how people, even when they are individually terrible in different ways (selfish, ignorant, envious, indecisive) become better when they help each other and are made to comprehend each other’s pain.  This is the very optimistic idea at the core of the show, that the empathy, love and support creates a community that will inevitably, in the end, result in each of these people (Chidi, Eleanor, Jason, Tahani) being better than when they started out with (and as an aside here, I think The Good Place is particularly good for portraying characters who have always thought themselves as truly good realising they aren’t – as great as Kristen Bell is as Eleanor, I think the harder work here is done by William Jackson Harper and Jameela Jamil), much in the same way in which it was love and mutual respect that turned a character like Ron Swanson in Parks and Rec into a loveable person, whereas a realistic portrayal of a libertarian confronted with Leslie Knope’s concept of what politics should be and do would have been a much more dire affair. 

And why not take into account that 2018 seems such an unlikely time for not one but two shows to exist that are so optimistic about what communities and relationships between people can create and change. Forever embraces June’s search for more, but it doesn’t quite go as far as to ridicule the safety and comfort that Oscar represents, and the beauty that lies in creating a life of routines and a shared language together. I think disregarding that these two love each other would have been cynical, as would the idea that they cannot change in tandem with each other, as long as they both recognise the need for change and growth. But maybe, it is almost impossible to take the same position that Michael finds himself in – where humans suddenly appear almost lovely in their ridiculousness, rather than terrible in the small and great horrors they inflict upon each other. 
Or – as much as Parks and Recreation was the show for the period of time it happened in, I’m not really sure that The Good Place and Forever, as good as they are what they do, are exactly what we need right now to make sense of this unflinching existential terror.

The Good Place (2016-), created by Michael Schur, starring Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto, D’Arcy Carden, Ted Danson.

Forever (2018-), created by Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard, starring Maya Rudolph, Fred Armisen, Catherine Keener.