Review: Keeping It ‘Casual’

What would happen if Will & Grace were more sarcastic and related by blood? The relationship between Valerie and Alex in Hulu’s Casual somewhat reminded me of the dynamic NBC pairing, but they are trying to handle a lot more major adjustments in their lives. Created by Zander Lehmann, Casual introduces us to a very funny brother and sister, and the show’s first season has succeeded thus far mostly due to the charming and grounded performances from Michaela Watkins and Tommy Dewey.

After she finds her husband with another woman, Watkins’ Valerie finds herself moving in with her bachelor younger brother, Alex, played by Tommy Dewey. Even though she doles out sage advice as a successful shrink, Valerie finds herself reluctantly and awkwardly entering the dating game all over again. It doesn’t help that her daughter is very up front about her sexual relationship with her boyfriend, and Alex wrote the algorithm for the dating site where she finds the men to go out with. Valerie has entered the “overshare” age, and her brother assures her that she is “the perfect 36 year old woman.”

The tone sounds it would be for a riotous NBC sitcom, but Casual has a more laid back tone to it. In one episode, Alex slowly begins to realize that he can’t really keep his sister and niece at his house if he doesn’t make it worth it. He even buys a puppy on a whim as an unspoken selling point to keep some company in his house. It’s pathetic and sad, but Dewey doesn’t make Alex into a sad sap. He’s kind of a lovable douchebag at first, but then we realize how much of an asshole he really can be when he tells a girl that he’s surprised that he had such a good time “sleeping with a girl for her personality.” Ryan Reynolds is probably kicking himself that he skipped the audition for this part.

Casual’s biggest asset has to be Michaela Watkins. To be perfectly honest, Watkins falls into a category of actress that can’t seem to find a good part. She has appeared in feature films like Enough Said and Wanderlust, but her characters always have a zany craziness to them. Watkins’ character on the short-lived Trophy Wife felt extraneous and annoying, but here she’s able to flex some real dramatic chops. After she bites the bullet and hooks up with a muscled 23 year old, Valerie struggles to understand why there is no communication between the two of them, and she seems baffled (and a bit afraid) of teenage daughter Laura’s openness about sex. You feel bad for Valerie, and you want her to find her place.

Oscar-nominated director Jason Reitman has a knack for directing characters who are going through a sudden and life-altering change, and he helmed the first two episodes so far. Juno dealt with teen pregnancy and Up in the Air handled people losing their jobs, and Valerie’s new relationship situation is something that he would direct in one of his features. It’s interesting to see how the relationships will develop through the course of the season instead of having just 2 hours to let it all play out.

It may not be anything novel or incredibly original, but Casual’s writing and performances remind us why we return to stories like these ones. The show proves that some people are just all in it for the sex, but sometimes the term casual shouldn’t be taken as lightly. It’s definitely a show to watch for the rest of the television season.

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