They’re a popular TV food. They were used as a character identifier for Leslie Knope in Parks & Recreation. The Duffer Brothers used Eggos as an 80s homage that tethered Eleven to reality in Stranger Things. Waffles have typically been used as a comedic device and are used as Hollywood’s answer to the proverbial question: Waffles or pancakes.
For Casual, the answer remains waffles and unlike its pop-counterparts, series creator Zander Lehmann has made that a bold choice informed by deeper feelings and themes tethered to the show.
A brilliant season from the start, season 3 continued to build its story’s tension through Tuesday’s finale with new, inventive formats Lehmann told CutPrintFilm was a matter of getting more comfortable and confident with the crew and in-tune with the characters.
From the very first episode, it seems like it could be a re-pilot of the show seeing as the main trio between Alex, his sister Valerie and her daughter Laura are at the funeral for their estranged father/grandfather in contrast to being at his funeral in Alex’s dream in the series pilot.
It’s a rarity a show’s individual seasons can simultaneously feel connected yet independent of each other but as Lehmann explained, each season has been intended to be a good stopping place for the story.
Of course, that’s not the hope. It’ll keep going as long as Lehmann and his crew keep the change coming. Starting with waffles.
With Jason Reitman at the helm for episode 12, the show jumps back to the 1990s. Phones are replaced by Gameboys. Alex is wearing two necklaces while Val’s sitting with ponytails. Casual doesn’t seem like a show that would ever do a flashback episode, it’s never relied on retelling of stories before.
Present tense exposition has been the key but to really dive into deeper emotions, the show has learned to take risks like this to reveal layers to its characters that can’t be properly conveyed in the present tense.
The episode is a time capsule showing the circumstances Laura was brought into the world. In a single wide shot from the chest down, it’s shown why Alex is so infatuated with waffles- it’s the breakfast he served Val when it was first decided she’d go on with her surprise pregnancy.
It’s Webster’s new definition of “poignant.”
Alex’s waffles were first an odd character quirk for two seasons in line with Leslie Knope’s obsession but in a single shot, the meaning behind not only Alex’s favorite breakfast but also his relationship with Val and Laura increased tenfold.
Lehmann’s daringness to jump back in time is only part of the success of his third season with Hulu, though. It’s a season about creating more meaningful relationships beyond the casual with every character, even the peripherals.
Though Lehmann said he doesn’t look online for fan reactions, he certainly seems to tap into the fanbase’s ideas. The show’s subreddit had been asking for more air time for Leon and Leia, and it was received (SPOILER: the two are now engaged).
It’s all been done with proper intent as well. Leon isn’t given more screen time for the sake of it. His engagement and subsequent wedding are meant to put Alex in his place, taking him down from his high level of privilege and narcissism that defined his character for two seasons.
Through all thirteen episodes, it’s been a season about deconstructing and rebuilding relationships. Not only shown episodically but structurally as well, with the 1999 episode that relives the letdown of the Star Wars: Episode I at the top of the list.
More often than not, the episodes that take new directions have paid off in spades as the show ran the gamut of emotions. Episodes like a Linklater inspired bout, a bottle episode ending in animation, a music-themed episode, and a couple of road trips added a new layer of freshness to a show that’s always known how to hide and reveal stories through a basic lens.
Taking this new, inventive road has put a new spin on its characters working out their issues, Lehmann explained. Laura and Val have taken on each other’s personalities, adopting new identity crises with each other. Episodes like the one featuring one of Lehmann’s favorite bands Fleetwood Mac helped inform those feelings more than characters weaseling their way around conversations per usual.
Visually, the series has become more fragmented as well as perfectly illustrated by the deconstruction of Alex’s house that his new roommate so blatantly reveals to be his life falling apart. It’d typically be written off as lazy writing but Lehmann explained it’s a unique function of Rae- she’s the only person that can get into Alex’s head like that and get away with it. That’s visually represented once again as Alex tries to put back together his broken waffle iron after learning he was dumped by his girlfriend.
Maybe waffles should be taken a bit more seriously, Casual certainly has found its way to reflect that development in itself.