Search This Blog

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Review of Casual

Jason Reitman has directed six films: Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air, Young Adult, Labor Day, and Men, Women, and Children. All six projects involve characters or ideas that are just a bit off of the mainstream path. Thank You For Smoking and Up In The Air follow professionals with jobs that would sicken you if you met them in the real world- a pro-cigarette lobbyist for the former and a guy whose job it is to fire people for the latter; Juno stars a pregnant teenager with her own weird-Millennial-esque lingo who inadvertently hits on a married man; Charlize Theron’s character is a straight up miserable, horrible human being in Young Adult, and the point of the film is that her character should embrace that; Labor Day follows an agoraphobic who falls in love with a felon; and there’s all sorts of messed-up in Men, Women, and Children including Judy Greer’s character who pimps out her high school aged daughter. Yet for all of the fucked up things Reitman has done, his projects are all grounded in realism. You’re not looking at a surrealist Tim Burton vehicle; you’re watching something right outside of your house window. His latest project Casual is no different.

Casual is a TV series streaming on Hulu starring Michaela Watkins as Valarie, Tommy Dewey as her brother Alex, and Tara Lynne Barr as her daughter Laura. While it’s created by and written by newcomer Zander Lehmann, the show has director and executive producer Jason Reitman’s fingerprints all over it. The series starts off with Alex waking up in the middle of the night while his one-night-stand stays asleep and watches Laura and her boyfriend have sex in the house pool. The next night, while Laura and her boyfriend are about to have sex in her bedroom and as she takes off her top, Valarie and Alex walk into the room and they proceed to have a nonchalant conversation about dinner. There’s nothing sexual about the conversation or about the scene in general, it’s not voyeuristic, it’s just life.

That’s the essence of the show. Normalcy surrounded by the off traveled path sexuality. The premise of the show, and the hook Hulu sold the masses, is that Valarie, a middle-aged psychiatrist, is recently separated and she and her daughter are staying with her brother while the divorce gets finalized. This is a show showcasing the former SNLer and talented but always underused Watkins. And the show is that in a sense. But not really.

At its core, Casual is about the fucked up relation that Valarie and Alex have with each other. The show is very much a showcase for Watkins as it is for Tommy Dewey. As the first season unfolds, you get the understanding of why Valarie and Alex are L.A.’s version of Cersei and Jamie Lannister. Francis Conroy steps right off of the How I Met Your Mother set to play the matriarch of the family, and a hornier Feed Melamed jumps right off the In A World… shoot to play the patriarch. There’s a very tense Thanksgiving dinner that occurs towards the end of the first season that explains who and what Valarie and Alex are thanks to their parents.

This show studies the sexual exploration of its three main characters, but unlike a garbage and broad project like Men, Women, and Children, Casual’s exploration is very specific to the characters its developing- and much more entertaining as a result. After seeing her boyfriend cheat on her at a party, Laura starts up an infatuation with her photography teacher. In the show’s second episode, Valarie picks up a guy named Neil only after introducing herself. Alex is a stereotypical Hollywood Lothario; a tech guy who’s doesn’t have to work thanks to a dating website he’s created, so he sleeps with whomever he’d like to. Yet ultimately, these characters’ sexual exploits always came back to their relationship with each other.

For me, the highlight of this show is Dewey’s Alex Cole. On paper, he seems like a walking cliché. He’s charming, he’s handsome, he’s rich, and he’s a Ladies Man. But Dewey brings so much earnest and sweetness to the role that it elevates the character above what could be formulaic. Ultimately, all Alex wants is to be happy and to settle down. He doesn’t necessarily want this character the world expects from him. In a heartbreaking scene, we see that Alex has two different profiles on his own dating website. One is specifically engineered to get the most matches so he can sleep with the most women. But then we see the second one, one in which Alex is completely open and honest. And he hasn’t had a legitimate match in the two years since his true profile has been active. It shades every action Alex has done and will do and every interaction he has with another female. I think it’s an excellent performance and one of the main reasons I’ve been sucked into the show.

Unfortunately, the show isn’t perfect and it does have a lot of glaring flaws. For starters, it doesn’t seem to build upon the pieces it leaves behind. Early on, Alex gets arrested by purchasing cocaine, which leads to a very funny scene (and one you’ve probably seen in the trailers), but the show never addresses it since. This semi-lackadaisical approach also leads to some scenes where the end is written and the writers and working backwards instead of going where the story naturally takes them. That leads to some hinky connective tissue in the show. However, those flaws can be overlooked and are less noticeable when being binge-watched.

Ultimately, I would highly recommend this show, especially binging through it. I recently purchased Hulu and ended up binging the entire series in one night. The good parts of the show outweigh bad- which is pretty much Jason Reitman’s career. No matter how terrible Labor Day was and how God awful Men, Women, and Children were, the greatness of his other four projects far outweigh the negatives. The same holds true for Casual. Check it out.



If you would like to comment on this post, please visit our Facebook page