Hulu has recently become a larger part of my TV viewing life than ever before. Although it earned my undying gratitude when it saved my beloved Mindy Project, I have found myself thoroughly impressed by another of its original offerings—Casual, a new comedy from producer and director Jason Reitman. Seven of the planned ten episodes in the first season have been broadcast so far—unlike most Netflix shows, Hulu prefers to parcel out its episodes week by week. A season two has already been ordered, which pleases me because I enjoy this show quite a bit.
The set-up of Casual is classic and simple—Valerie (Michaela Watkins), a newly divorced single mother, and her teenage daughter, Laura (Tara Lynne Barr) move in with Valerie’s younger brother, Alex (Tommy Dewey). Alex is a bit of a lazy screw-up who rides on the success of Snooger, the OkCupid-esque dating site he co-founded. Underneath his sardonic, womanizing ways is a lost, lonely guy. See, he has two Snooger profiles—an honest one that, at the beginning of the series, has never received a match, and an optimal, full of lies one based on his extensive research of what women want that receives thousands of meaningless matches for him to have meaningless sex with. Alex is not someone I would necessarily call a good person. He often mishandles situations, sometimes to the point of disgusting behavior, but yet you somehow still feel for him. He’s a bit like a lost puppy—he sort of means well and he really just wants to be loved.
Valerie…well, Valerie tries her best. She is struggling to redefine herself after her recent divorce, which happened because her husband was cheating on her with a much younger woman. She struggles with both dating and solo parenting, but her heart is usually in the right place. Laura has quite a lot of issues. She openly has sex in the house with her boyfriend, Emile, and rather inappropriately pursues an ill-advised crush on her photography teacher, Michael (Patrick Heusinger).
As you would expect considering the main character’s occupation, the show is primarily about the modern dating landscape. It hits many of the right points, from the larger issue of how easy it is to find meaningless encounters yet how difficult it is to find a lasting connection to the minutiae most of us are too familiar with, like seeing the dreaded “…” as you wait for a text response from a romantic prospect. Alex, Valerie, and Laura provide so many examples of exactly what not to do—in the pilot, Alex and Valerie plan parallel first internet dates at the same restaurant and literally convene in the bathroom to debrief midway through. Naturally, their dates bust them, which goes over about as well as you might imagine. The show also doesn’t shy away from the emotional implications of Valerie’s divorce, and her scenes with ex-husband Drew (Zak Orth) are amongst the poignant of the series. The entire cast is fantastic, and I was particularly excited to see Six Feet Under‘s Frances Conroy and Happy Endings‘s Eliza Coupe in major recurring roles.
Aspects of the show remind me a bit of HBO’s Togetherness, another dark comedy about 30-somethings dealing with modern dating and having probably too many adult family members under the same roof. Casual, however, manages to simultaneously be both lighter and darker. I laugh at it more—an unexpected Finding Nemo reference in the most recent episode had me in stitches—but it also delves deeper into the cringeworthy awkwardness The Office always did so well. There are moments I barely want to watch because it is so clear the outcome will be terrible, and there are even more moments where you want to reach through the screen and give the characters a good shake. While it is a comedy, it is a comedy with three main characters who are desperately lonely and trying to find their place in the world, a process which almost never goes smoothly. There’s a layer of inherent sadness underneath the humor, and it’s the same layer that makes these flawed characters feel so real. The situations are rarely predictable, though. The show is incredibly well-written and many times when I thought I knew where a story was going they found a way to surprise me whilst always remaining true to the characters.
New episodes of Casual are released on Wednesdays on Hulu. Despite its title, I’ve decided I’m ready to commit.