My Take on…Hulu’s CASUAL, the best new show of the Fall
It’s rare, these days, that I find a show that draws me in on an emotional and almost physical level, where when episodes end, I can’t move fast enough to get to the next one and when there are no new episodes left, I feel a little empty (boy talk about laying it on thick….). That’s how I felt from the instant I pushed play on Hulu’s latest original series (available now), CASUAL, the dark (dark-dark) comedy from creator Zander Lehmann and director Jason Reitman (he did the first two episodes; others like Fred Savage and Max Winkler had a hand in later ‘sodes). I started the pilot at 10PM on a Saturday night, intending to watch just one before heading out for the night. Cut to 3:45AM, all 10 episodes are done, and I felt a withdrawal so fierce, it kept me awake well beyond that.
CASUAL stars Tommy Dewey unlike I’ve ever seen him, here playing a somewhat depressed (and depressing) Alex, internet matchmaker who can create the perfect algorithm for one night stands, but can’t seem to make love stick. His sister Valerie, played by the revelation that is Michaela Watkins, is fresh off of a divorce that sent her reeling, when she and her daughter, the too-mature-for-her-own-good Laura (Tara Lynne Barre, a star on the rise if ever there was), move into Alex’s house to heal.
What follows are 10 episodes of one of the most fully realized shows I’ve ever seen – the tone it sets in the pilot (available to non-premium subscribers today; episode 2 is behind the premium pay-wall) is carried through all 10 episodes. It is unique, it is dark, it is beautifully shot. I was immediately in this world and didn’t want to leave. As Val treads the waters of dating again (with the help of Alex’s app), she begins to unravel piece by piece, trying to be the mother Laura needs, while dealing with the ex-husband no one should have married in the first place (one of my favorite scenes from a later season episode is Watkins and her character’s ex-husband, tired of fighting, and sharing dinner on two sides of a locked garage door); add into that her quest for love after divorce and a string of bad decisions that the quest brings, she’s the classic therapist who can’t “therapize” her own life. For me, the relationship between Alex and Valerie felt true, felt real, felt like a grown up brother and sister who can be completely evil to each other, can really say hurtful things, but in the next 4 breaths, immediately fall back together with wit and sarcasm that eases any lingering pain.
While the writing is good (really good, really funny, really moving at times in a shocking way), it’s the actors that really make the show something beyond for me – Tommy Dewey is so good. I think after every Alex scene as the show was starting out, I repeated “god I love Tommy Dewey” because he was funny and sarcastic and just kind of douchey enough in one scene that you want to be with him but also know you’d probably hate him, while being so vulnerable in the next that you aren’t even sure what to do! He doesn’t care who he hurts, mostly because he’s so self-focused that he doesn’t realize he’s hurting people, and when he meets his match in Eliza Coupe’s free-spirited (think: Eliza Coupe on last week’s MINDY PROJECT times about 1000) Missy, he only rises to the challenge again.
Michaela Watkins, god, where do I begin? The best of the three wives in the too-short-lived TROPHY WIFE from ABC, she’s got a really sarcastic way about her that Valerie uses to brush off her hurt, brush off her anger, and protect herself. She manages to play surprised, vulnerable, hurt, a little damaged, full of love, and sympathetic all at once. She has a self-deprecating sense of humor that really sets the character above the classic “divorcee out on the prowl” we’ve seen in sitcoms, dramas, movies, you name it. That’s not to mention the fact that Dewey and Watkins have sibling chemistry for days and I would probably watch them just sit and trade barbs for hours on end.
Tara Lynne Barr nails her part of the more-mature-than-Uncle-Alex teenager who doesn’t really think she needs her mom anymore. It’s the classic case of a 16 year old trying to be so much older and wiser than her years, always one step away from going just too far.
The supporting cast that the show is built from are on the next level – Nyasha Hatendi as Alex’s reluctant “best friend” Leon is SO funny; Eliza Coupe is great. Frank Malamed and Francis Conroy are clueless parents with a super-hippy past that give you an idea why Alex and Valerie ended up as screwed up as they are. And Patrick Heusinger as Laura’s photography teacher Michael is one of my favorite things of the whole show. Number one, he’s a beautiful man. But number two, and more importantly, he serves as a fairly level-headed guy in the world of these off-kilter people who are completely incapable of not messing up their own lives.
If you’re looking for a smart, dark, hilarious, cynical, sad, and lovely show that is about life post divorce or life when you feel unlovable or life when you feel to old for your age with a little bit of sex, humor, heartache, and despair built in, CASUAL is 100% for you.