With “Casual,” Hulu enters that programming hierarchy inhabited by such pay-TV notables as HBO and Showtime. A compelling narrative, crisp writing, terrific ensemble cast and generally unpredictable plot trajectories elevates “Casual” to the class of “Six Feet Under,” “Nurse Jackie,” and even “Californication” as comedies where the humor is interlaced with sadness, angst and accessible drama that rings true to the times.
“Casual” is the story of a dysfunctional family — surely, a common theme across the TV/video landscape — in which Peter Pan Alex (Tommy Dewey) shares his home with divorced therapist sister Valerie (Michaela Watkins) and her 16-year-old daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr). On the periphery are an assortment of finely tuned characters that come in and out of our central figures’ lives. Included among them are Alex and Valeria’s over-the-hill hippie parents (Frances Conroy and Fred Melamed), innocent bystander Leon (Nyasha Hatendi) and Alex’s “perfect match,” Emmy.
The lion’s share of “Casual’s” success is owed to an outstanding performance by Dewey. Prior to this Hulu series, Dewey has been seen in “The Mindy Project,” the short-lived ABC Family program “Roommates” and a few minor films such as “17 Again” and horror film “Unearthed.” As the series catalyst, Alex is the co-founder of an online dating service which is perfect for the man who seems unable to find the right mate. His “don’t give a damn about anything” manner hides a deep underbelly of caring, especially about his sister and niece. Sister Valerie is that woman in transition during a divorce where she is unsuccessfully juggling being a great mom and effective therapist, all the while trying to find a man to make her forget her cheating ex. Daughter Laura, played by Barr with a mix of anger and pain, does her best to win and then lose the sympathy of her family and audience in successive episodes. Yes, the perfect teenager.
If there is one flaw in “Casual,” and it’s one in which seems to pop up in a number of TV series (web and otherwise), is that in order to fulfil a 10-episode commitment, a few of the installments come off as padding. Additionally, I don’t recommend “Casual” as a binge type of show, as some of the individual segments bear some reflection and perhaps even repeat viewing. Lastly, this is not the short of series that is suitable for youngins given the language and sexual situations.
Adding to his resume of successful films (with a few clinkers), Jason Reitman is an executive producer (there are many) and director of episodes one and two. Zander Lehmann, who was in the film “Airheads” as an actor, is the creator and primary force behind “Casual.” Helen Estabrook, who runs Reitman’s Right of Way Films and veteran TV exec Liz Tigelaar also service as executive producers.