If you combined the raw, intense emotion of “Orange Is The New Black” and the wry, snide humor of “Community” in a show about family dynamics, you’d get a feel for what Hulu’s original show “Casual” is like. With 10 episodes under its belt, and 13 more on the way, the show is turning into less of a one night binge and more of a steady thing.
The show is directed by Jason Reitman (“Thank You For Smoking,” “Juno,” “Up In The Air”), and written mostly by Zander Lehmann, with contributions by Liz Tigelaar (“Life Unexpected,” “Once Upon A Time,” “Revenge”), Sheila Callaghan (“Shameless” and “United States of Tara”), among others. The indie feel of the show, the emotional resonance and the honesty about the complex messiness of modern relationships is intriguing, pulling you in from the very first moment.
The set-up includes a pair of siblings, Alex (Tommy Dewey) and Valerie (Michaela Watkins) who attempt to navigate the dating scene while raising Valerie’s daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr). I’ve loved Michaela Watkins ever since I saw her as the Angie Tempura character on “Saturday Night Live” in 2008. She has an incredible talent for delving completely into character — one look in her eyes and you believe every word she says and every action she takes. It’s good to see her her in a role that makes good use of this talent.
The oldest of the siblings, Valerie, is a high-strung shrink going through a divorce while attempting to maintain a stable relationship with her teenage daughter. Alex, on the other hand, is the emotionally constipated creator of a dating website — who breaks his own algorithm to appeal to the masses. Laura, a high school student, is just now beginning to realize how messy things can be in a world where casual sex and monogamous relationships share equal footing.
The interactions between the siblings is sharp, funny, and deep. It’s my favorite part of the show, maybe because I’m at that stage of my life with my own siblings: We’re all adults, trying to figure out what kind of life we want to live and who we want to share it with, and we’re all working through our issues differently, yet we share similar hopes and fears.
“Casual” doesn’t shy away from the messy, confusing world of relationships and modern dating. It doesn’t provide clear cut answers (nor should it), but instead considers various ideas, tries them on, and then offers them to us. As Alex and Valerie meet up to compare notes, we sympathize with their plight, and that of their dates.
Most of us, at some point, desire a connection, whether sexual, romantic, emotional, or a combination of the three. There are many barricades to achieving this in the modern world (some of our own making), but we keep trying, we keep meeting, and keep moving until we find someone who shares our need for intimacy in the same capacity.
“Casual” may be low-key, but it’s also thoughtful, provocative, and perceptive. It’s one of the better recent shows on relationships, partially because it depicts a range of people and their preferences, making it seem more realistic and modern.
There’s a point in the show where Valerie is counseling a man who had a rather alarming dream about a moment between his father and himself. “What does it mean?” He asks. After Valerie probes a bit more, the man tells her he doesn’t want an open-ended answer, and he doesn’t want to answer the question himself. The answer, which seems to be the premise of the show, is that we all want to please our parents. It’s ingrained in us. And how we feel about our parents will affect our relationships, romantic, sexual, or otherwise.
If you enjoy the feel of an indie story, dark humor, and stories about love (in all its forms), you should try Hulu’s “Casual,” which is anything but casual viewing (I tried to watch the first episode as a standalone and was compelled to watch the next episode. The only thing that stopped me from watching the third and probably the rest of the series in one go was that I had to pack for a trip I was taking the next day).
You can watch the entire first season on Hulu. If you don’t have Hulu, you can enjoy watching the series in its entirety on DVD. You could even win the first season by entering our giveaway!Image Credits: Hulu, BUCHAN/VARIETY/REX SHUTTERSTOCK