TV: Casual (Season 2)

casual-season-2-posterTo a degree, there’s an element of schadenfreude to the appeal of Hulu’s Casual: the romantic and emotional struggles of an effortlessly rich family in Southern California, whose behavior is often self-serving and awful, and almost always backfires? It is kind of a cringe-a-thon. Fortunately, characters we might otherwise keep at an arm’s length draw us in a bit closer thanks to fine performances, making this bleak, subdued comedy more accessible.

Season two continues to the explore the weird, uncomfortable sibling relationship of Valerie (Michaela Watkins) and Alex (Tommy Dewey), whose free-spirited parents scarred them for life—and left them in an awkward, symbiotic emotional relationship. This season shines more light on Alex, whose emotional death spiral in the wake of losing a love of his life is complicated further by the arrival of a new, venture capital business partner (Vincent Kartheiser) and the unexpected return of an old flame (Britt Lower). Valerie, meanwhile, works to rebuild her social life through a new office neighbor, Jennifer (Katie Aselton), which leads to new romantic possibilities. Meanwhile, the influence of the chronically confused guardians in her life trickles down to Valerie’s daughter Laura (Tara Lynn Barr), who enters into misguided and commitment-phobic relationships of her own.

Casual is a quiet, quirky character study, with an open mind but a world-weary eye, its heroes floundering in their psychological issues. The story-telling is patient and understated, even as it pushes into edgy comedic places, leaving the viewer squinting and wincing at each awkward turn. But Watkins, Dewey, and Barr make it highly watchable, as does the cast’s unsung hero Leon (Nyasha Hatendi), a soft-spoken, deadpan composer who frequently allows himself to be inconvenienced by his unlikely friendship with this dysfunctional family. I wouldn’t expect everyone to enjoy living vicariously through these people’s problems, but I like it, primarily for its uniquely flawed people and unconventional style.

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