TV: Casual (Season 3)

Moving into its third cringe-filled season, Casual continues on its awkward, darkly comic way. While the increasingly unlikable behavior of its core trio still keeps the viewer at an arm’s length, there’s something weirdly compelling about their subdued exploits, and this year the delightful supporting cast growing around them smoothes over their rough edges to make the journey more palatable.

Casual chronicles the mundane life struggles of a dysfunctional family in Southern California: miserable psychologist Valerie (Michaela Watkins), gracelessly aging man-boy Alex (Tommy Dewey), and Valerie’s rudderless teenaged daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr). The show has gotten plenty of mileage out of Valerie and Alex’s screwy codependency, but season three throws new wrenches into the works of their quirky sibling relationship, driving them further apart. Meanwhile, their attempts to rehabilitate their love lives and find personal happiness lead to near-criminal neglect of Laura, who continues to bounce from obsession to obsession, wandering willfully into terrible life choices.

Casual’s scripts have always leaned heavily on the lead actors’ charisma to draw us closer to difficult-to-like people, and season three is no exception—although, in Valerie’s case, the task of translating awful behavior into accessible quirk is nigh Herculean this time around. Even so, Watkins, Dewey, and Barr superbly anchor the show’s toxic core, and the writers help them out by providing more light, hope, and positivity from the people in their lives. In the past, soft-spoken friend Leon (Nyasha Hatendi) carried most of the load here, but season three gives him more help. Returning are Valerie’s vivacious receptionist Leia (Julie Berman) and charming but complicated love interest Jack (Kyle Bornheimer); they’re joined by Alex’s spirited Airbnb boarder Rae (the particularly delightful Maya Erskine) and new coworker Judy (the always-welcome Judy Greer). By providing more uplifting elements around the edges, Casual’s grim outlook feels a little less terminal, and the scope expands beyond inescapable family dysfunction to encompass the possibility of happiness through created family. Hopefully, Hulu will bring it back for at least one more kick at the can, giving its troubled, excruciating protagonists a chance at happiness and redemption.

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