TV: Casual (Season 1)

2563595_Casual_SC1In retrospect, the first season of Hulu’s Casual may be best viewed as a mystery. Stylistically reminiscent of Transparent, it’s a dramedy about a dysfunctional LA family, and like Transparent it revels in transgressive subject matter, blends dark humor with serious themes, and is very, very white. But as the season unfolds, the origins of the family’s psychological problems are gradually revealed, and the journey has a cumulative effect, rendering its messed-up characters increasingly sympathetic.

Psychologist Valerie Meyers (Michaela Watkins), in the wake of a contentious divorce, moves in with her wealthy, web developer brother Alex (Tommy Dewey) to pick up the pieces, along with her teenaged daughter Laura (Tara Lynn Barr). All three of them are looking for love, but none of them are particularly good at it, and as their individual searches continue, their romantic and sexual entanglements get more and more complicated and psychologically revealing.

Casual is a show that probably wouldn’t exist in the pre-peak TV era: it’s a quirky thing, without broad appeal. It’s also an imperfect show: some of its plot coupons are showing, it lacks diversity, and its messaging isn’t always under control. That said, it unfolds with a quiet confidence, bolstered by stellar acting. Watkins is terrific in the lead, and the rest of the cast keeps up nicely, especially Cole, Nyasha Hatendi, Eliza Coupe, and an Emmy-worthy Frances Conroy as Valerie and Alex’s insufferable mother. I’m not sure Casual is doing anything particularly earth-shattering, but it makes an impressive mark and fills its niche well.

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