Casual Season 1 Review

TV :
Sam Woolf

Reviewed by:
Rating:
3.5
On October 6, 2015
Last modified:October 6, 2015

Summary:

Rough around the edges though it might be, Casual is more assured of itself and charming than first impressions would indicate.

Casual Season 1 Review

Mikaela Watkins, Tommy Dewey and Tara Lynne Barr in Casual

But when TV-viewing hours in the day are more rare than already very good shows set in a similar milieu, it’s harder to forgive Casual’s shaky start. Lehmann’s series is difficult to embrace at the outset, with the opening episodes almost always hinging on whether or not well-off, but unfulfilled characters can get laid. There are hints, even in the pilot, at the deeper problems eating away at Valerie (“You’re cold and alone!” she’s told by her ex-husband) and Alex (“I don’t relate to people!” he tells himself), but they’re mostly used to excuse the show’s disaffected attitude about everything. When all the dialogue not concerned with fluid exchange is based around movie references and brand identity, that dialogue has to be sharper than what’s provided early on, and Casual doesn’t immediately offset its flippancy with something novel or earnest to latch onto.

Every successive episode does build on the show’s relationships and view of modern romance, though. The series is front-loaded with played-out jabs at spin classes and L.A. diets, and views technology more as a comic well than an exploration-worthy component of contemporary dating (episode 5, “Dick Pics,” is about exactly what you think it’s about). Yet, Casual sets its sights higher than just how Tinder and online profiles change hookup culture, gradually transitioning into a broader look at the generations-long dissolution of the nuclear family structure, and how this one particular family is dealing with that change.

Casual really hits its groove around the midpoint, as more characters attach themselves long term to the main trio. Frances Conroy and Fred Melamed add a lot value as the siblings’ wanderlusting parents, and Eliza Coupe has a substantial arc as the only woman to perfectly match with Alex using his website’s algorithm. The first four episodes are all solely credited to Lehmann, and it’s once other names start appearing in the “written by” field that a multifaceted dramedy, not just a mature-rated sex comedy, starts to develop. The same goes for the look of the series, with Reitman’s “IKEA showroom catalogue” direction of the first two episodes setting the template for a nicely lit, formally bland series that later directors do far more interesting things with.

The show’s cast isn’t helped by the initial bumps, but mostly surmounts them. The smug detachment Dewey has to work with as Alex can be painfully limiting, but he shines when paired with Nyasha Hatendi’s Leon, Valerie’s one-night stand that Alex forces into being his best friend (the best running gag of the season owes to Hatendi’s ability to get a laugh just by appearing on screen unexpectedly). Barr’s doing very good work right out of the gate, and while Laura’s journey is secondary for much of the season, it’s one that weaves in and around the adult plotlines in smart and surprising ways.

Really, though, Watkins is the star of the show, and thank goodness for that. Sidelined in one program that has lasted (SNL), then foregrounded in one that didn’t (RIP, Trophy Wife), Watkins finally has a full showcase for her well evidenced talent as a comedian, and strongly suggested capabilities as a dramatic actor. Watching her play both sides of that divide over the course of a single elevator ride in the fourth episode makes for one of Casual’s finest moments, and it’s a balance the show has a good grasp of after ten episodes. There’s still plenty of room for the series to grow and improve with more time, but that you’ll look forward to another season of Casual means it’s a series worth committing to more fully than the title lets on.

Casual Season 1 Review
Good

Rough around the edges though it might be, Casual is more assured of itself and charming than first impressions would indicate.