Zander Lehmann, creator/executive producer of Hulu’s Casual, talks about how the idea for Season 3’s big reveal came about and the risks with it.
Hulu’s Casual is back with a bang in Season 3.
At the end of the first episode of the new season, Dawn (Frances Conroy) reveals that Valerie (Michaela Watkins) is not the biological daughter of Charles (Fred Melamed).
“It was something that we’d talked about from the first season,” says Casual creator Zander Lehmann. “It actually came about when we were casting Tommy [Dewey] and Michaela. We looked at them and thought, ‘God, there’s no way these two people could look like they’re related, but they’re the best people for the role. What do we do?’ And ultimately, we put it on the backburner for a couple of years.”
In Season 3, Valerie and Alex (Dewey) deal with the death of their father, whom they euthanized at the end of last season at his request (it’s a comedy, really!). It’s not until their father’s wake that Valerie and Alex learn that they are half-brother and half-sister.
“We did obviously make them look and feel like brother and sister, but we figured this was a nice moment to get into the thing we had talked about doing for two years, and it allowed us to explore a new side of our characters, which is what happens when you question the biggest bond between them and put them in jeopardy.”
Usually, TV seasons end with a cliffhanger like this one, but on Hulu’s Casual, they start with one.
“It kicked off the season in a nice way. This was our way of starting the season fresh with a new idea and a new thing to explore.”
Don’t Call It a Bottle Episode
In Episode 2, titled “Things To Do In Burbank When You’re Dead,” Valerie and Alex wander around Burbank with their father’s ashes in an episode that’s been described as an ode to director Richard Linklater and Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight. The episode focuses on only these two characters in a capsule-type of format. Just don’t call it a bottle episode.
“The bottle [episode] is generally done in one location, so I wouldn’t call it a bottle, but it is definitely a different episode. It was difficult to break that episode as a group of writers, and ultimately it was one of those things that wasn’t able to be outlined in our writers’ room because it’s so much of just these two characters talking about their perspectives on the world and relationship to each other. I went off and sort of wrote it without the writers’ room, and it’s my favorite episode I’ve written for the show.”
The episode also features a notable multi-talented Emmy-nominated TV actress, musician, writer, and personality.
“We got Carrie Brownstein to direct it, who’s fantastic. She understood what we were doing and got our references. Carrie Brownstein is the real deal, and she is a really good director. She directed Episode 3, too, which is so different than Episode 2.”
Brownstein joins a long list of female directors on the show, including Lynn Shelton, Lake Bell, Amy York Rubin, and Gillian Robespierre.
“Nine of our 13 episodes are directed by women this year. Honestly, it’s a writing staff of mostly women, me and another guy and four or five women writers. It’s a female-heavy cast, with Michaela and Tara leading it, so there’s a lot of female influence.”
For Lehmann, finding the right director is important because it helps them find the right performance.
“Our scripts are pretty light and pretty spare. We’re looking for a director who can bring out the nuance in the words and talk to actors, and funny enough, that includes a lot of women, some of which are actors (Bell and Brownstein among them). The women we hire tend to understand the show more than anyone.”
More Risks in Season 3
While Lehmann admits that Casual has been around long enough to earn some freedom when it comes to hiring directors, the show itself, in real time, exists over the course of a year. Early on, a Season 1 character returns, revealing that only 7 months have passed since the 2015 Season 1 finale.
“It should feel a little surprising. It was sort of intentional, but also a function of the stories we tell. Each episode takes place over a day to a week, and we’re at 30 episodes now, that’s 30 weeks or a year, more or less, which fits in with our timeline.”
Season 1 showed the three leads exploring new love, while Season 2 had them seeking friendship. In Season 3, Alex, Laura, and Val are pursuing their passions.
“The first two seasons involved establishing how these characters live and their dynamic. By Season 3, now we know who these people are. We wanted to give them a drive and motivation.”
Not only is Lehmann adding motivations to his characters, but he’s also inspiring them in real life. Dewey and Watkins wrote Episode 8 of Season 3, something that was new for the series creator, to see his series actors become series writers.
“It was scary at first, because you don’t want them to come in and mess it up,” Lehmann laughs. “Thankfully, Michaela and Tommy both had their own shows they had created and written. They are professionals, and they know their characters as well, or better, than anyone. It became clear early on that they knew what they were doing. They had a point of view. They worked well together. It was a really positive experience.”
Casual is no longer the freshman-Hulu-kid-on-the-block and has proven its staying power. Like its characters, it’s spreading its wings in the third season.
“Season 3, you can take some of those risks.”
Hulu’s Casual airs new episodes on Tuesdays.