CREATED BY ZANDER LEHMANN
PREMIERES MAY 23, 2017 ON HULU
FIRST 4 EPISODES WATCHED FOR REVIEW
Hulu got its proverbial beak wet in original programming with comedy shows and now has found an identity with hard-hitting dramas like The Handmaid’s Tale and The Path. It only seems appropriate that one of its finest shows sits somewhere in between those two identities. Entering it’s third season, Casual has shifted into a new gear few shows are capable of touching.
As has been the case with virtually every Hulu original, each episode plays back some of the clips from previous episodes to get you up to speed on what you may have forgotten from season to season or each week’s new episode. But in the case of season three’s opener, it might as well be a re-pilot (and that’s a great thing.)
Fans of the show should remember how Zander Lehmann’s creation started with a funeral of the core family’s patriarch only to learn it was a dream from Alex (Tommy Dewey). Season three kicks off with the real memorial of Alex and Valerie’s (Michaela Watkins) father after they assisted his death along with Valerie’s daughter Laura (Tay Lynne Barr) in the second season finale.
Not only is this a re-pilot because of its parallels to the opening act from season one but also how the show reintroduces its casual relationships be it between sister and brother, exes, or dates through a fresh setting.
Most notably, the first two episodes hold a great focus on the relationship between Alex and Valerie as siblings and how that relationship has shifted now that they don’t live together.
Alex held all the cards through the first two seasons, playing host to Valerie and Laura as the former was in need of temporary housing after a divorce. At the end of last season, Valerie decides it’s best to find a new place for her and Laura, leaving an empty home for Alex who had grown to need someone to cook waffles every morning.
Without Valerie or Laura around, Alex is left to fill his empty spaces with AirBnB guests which sets up not only some of the new season’s funniest moments but opens up a deeper dialogue of his changed personality because of his sister and niece’s time spent under his roof.
Of course, the brother-sister dynamic isn’t completely gone but it certainly has changed. Without daily interaction, Alex and Val are now left to awkward conversations over dimly lit dinners or listening to Lionel Richie in the back of a Lyft. Memories of Val and Alex using the latter’s now-disgraced dating service Snooger certainly ring as the stilted small talk between the two has only been seen in dates gone wrong, not between characters as close as Val and Alex.
Speaking of awry dates, Alex’s on-call best friend Leon (Nyasha Hatendi) also starts to build his own identity beyond being tethered to Alex’s hip, he’s working his way back into Val’s life as well. There’s also Laura whose path from sexually active teen wanting to be an adult to being a true independent woman that opens up a whole new outlook on her character (while remaining a comic relief when needed). All this growth is quite exciting and comforting.
How the cast handles the change in relationships and change of scenery is perhaps what carries the show the best. The dialogue isn’t as hyper-focused on quick witticisms but emotionally treacherous and vulnerable moments, especially on Alex’s side of the equation as he confronts his life as a bachelor and the hole that AirBnB guests like Hans can’t fill.
Breaking conventions of the show’s previous seasons, one of the episodes is almost exclusively dialogue between Val and Alex as they go down memory lane before throwing the ashes of their estranged father. It’s Linklater-esque while still creating its own identity, building the sibling bond the two have shared the past couple years on screen with Carrie Brownstein at the helm for the Alex and Val special (which should be the episode sent for consideration by the Emmys for Dewey and Watkins’ performances.)
Brownstein isn’t the only big name behind the camera this season, either. Lynn Shelton is handed the camera for a couple episodes while talent like Fred Savage, Lake Bell, Gillian Robespierre, and executive producer Jason Reitman fill out the rest of the slate.
But through all the changes behind and in front of the camera, Casual still has the same heart that’s attracted fans for the past two years. Thanks to Lehmann’s creative vision, this should be a sign that this should be a Hulu staple for years to come if it continues to bend its own conventions. Hopefully, the Golden Globes and Emmys take more note this season.