The ten-episode first season was provided prior to broadcast.
Given the following as a series log line, where would you expect to find the new half-hour comedy Casual?
“After catching her husband in bed with a younger woman, a 40-pushing L.A. mom moves in with her caddish millionaire brother. When not looking after a precocious 16-year-old who’s more of a friend than a daughter, the divorcee and her brother navigate the tricky world of online romance, which leads to awkward mid-coital walk-ins, sabotaged weddings, and lots of uninvited guests at Thanksgiving.”
Does that sound like the latest original series premiering on Hulu come midnight, and more importantly, would you expect it to be much funnier and more thoughtful than the network sitcom it could be mistaken for?
Just about any show can be reworded to sound multi-cam-appropriate without too much effort (Chemistry teacher partners with lazy former student for harebrained get-rich schemes! Russian spies get a new neighbour…from the FBI!), but certain network-appealing elements of Casual make it an odd addition to the streaming service revolution. There are act breaks in many episodes, a workaround perhaps designed for second tier, ad supported Hulu users. It’s also being released in weekly installments, just as most other original programs on the platform are. And there are pace-slackening moments of quiet in Casual that could easily make room for the cries of a studio audience.
More generally, the early goings of Casual are just kind of frivolous and flirty in the way that a lot of traditional sitcoms are comfortable being most of the time. Even though the series is shot single-cam, and tells a continuous, sex-driven story over the course of its first season, it’s very easy to imagine a version of head writer/creator* Zander Lehmann’s show that found a home on CBS (Two in No Way Broke Girls+One Rich Boy). And while the above-mentioned instances of situational zaniness are a constant throughout the first ten episodes of the series, Casual eventually proves its core, not just its release venue, to be in keeping with many recent domestic comedies not available on network television.
*Despite Juno and Young Adult director Jason Reitman’s name being plastered all over the project, Lehmann is credited as the creator. Reitman directs the first two episodes, and is credited as an executive producer.
Yet another introspective look at the lives of well-meaning difficult people (but not Difficult People), the series stars Michaela Watkins as the recently singled Valerie, a shrink grieving her dead marriage from the comfort of her younger brother’s palatial L.A. home. While Valerie is struggling to get back out there, brother Alex (Tommy Dewey) is happy to coast off of all the money and casual sex that his Tinder-esque website has landed in his lap. Joining the two siblings is daughter/niece Laura (Tara Lynne Barr), whose transparent sex life hasn’t made dealing with teenage romance any less frustrating.
Casual doesn’t waste a moment in establishing its premise, which is good, because it takes a while to figure out just what exactly it’s trying to be about. While affluent, white Los Angelinos are by no means impossible to make interesting, and it helps if there’s more to watching them than just wallowing in comfortable ennui. FX’s You’re The Worst has a wonderful bad romance at the centre, and is much livelier. HBO’s Togetherness has the stakes of a family on the brink of collapse, not one already in recovery. And Amazon’s Transparent has the pioneering subject matter, lyrical direction, clear sense of purpose – well, it has a lot that Casual doesn’t offer, but by no means requires to be a great version of the show it wants to be.