Casual: New Hulu Comedy is Formally Bad

Valerie, Alex and Laura in Casual

Hulu cannot seem to get it right in terms of comedic offerings. Casual, the new comedy from the site is just plain bad, formally or informally, nothing works here.  It should, any show about sexual “freedom”  has the potential to be a winner, but despite a 7.8 on IMDb, the series is,  thus far,  a clunker.  Presumably the higher rating on IMDb is down to the subject matter and the hot-tub scene with a “16 year-old” character having sex with her boyfriend.

*Sidenote* For the record, Tara Lynne Barr is 22 years-old and not 16. It is the character of Laura who is “underage.”

Casual stars Michaela Watkins (Wanderlust, In a World…), Tommy Dewey (The Escort, Step Up Revolution) and Tara Lynne Barr (God Bless America, Dawn) as dysfunctional family who all live together.  Dewey is Alex; a single 30-something man who develops his own website dating service, in order to have a constant stream of women at his beck and call. 

Watkins is his sister  Valerie. She is going through divorce proceedings with Laura’s (Barr) father.  Mom and her daughter share a home with Alex who encourages his psychoanalyst sister to start dating and turns a blind eye to his nieces “underage” sexual relations with her boyfriend.  Valerie also supports her child’s sexual freedom while maintaining a somewhat uneasy relationship with both her brother and Laura.

The show should work, but unlike Hulu’s other new comedy Difficult People (which was an abysmal attempt at humor that was painful to watch) Casual lacks the desperation and overplaying that seems to plague most of  American television’s “comedic” offerings. In fact the new series is so “laid-back” as to be comatose.

Lines are delivered with all the enthusiasm of a wet bagel, if it could talk, that is.  Intentionally (or perhaps unintentionally) each bit of dialogue is so underplayed that the participants seem bored to death.  Part of the problem could be with casting, the part of Alex screams for Ryan Reynolds who, unfortunately has left his Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza days  long behind him.

Tommy Dewey may be a fine actor, but Ryan Reynolds he is not,  and while Dewey may be in fine company with the other two leads in the show (as in being miscast) the man lacks what is needed for his character.  Were the show not a comedy, but more of a dramedy, things might work better, but it is doubtful.

Tara Lynne Barr, who was beyond brilliant in God Bless America has been put into a role that calls for funny versus acting straight in a funny film. While the latter is a must for a character to bring the comedy to the table, the  part Barr has been placed in requires more.

Watkins is a fine performer as well,  but like the other two protagonists in the show,  has been placed in an bad position.  Her character is just annoying and whiny, there is no comedy in her performance at all, while this could be on purpose it is not delivered in a fashion conducive to humorous entertainment.

The series’  pilot started out fairly creative, the funeral dream was at least interesting, but once Alex wakes up it loses that little tiny spark of “what could have been.”  Watching the first two episodes proved that,  unlike one other offering this season,  this comedy is not going to find its footing.

The lines are bland.  It does not help that the sound, whether this is down to poorly recorded ADR or some other reason, is muffled.  It feels like the actors were either recorded in a rehearsal or the director insisted that each line be delivered quietly into the microphone with a massive emphasis on downplaying each..and…every…syllable.

Thankfully, there is no laugh track; to help the audience find the humor, if there were it would only point out just how unfunny the show is.

Experimentation in comedy is a good thing, without it we would never have gotten past the 1950s and ’60s style of sitcoms like Mister Ed and Leave it to Beaver.   There is comedic gold in them thar hills, just not in Hulu’s latest attempt at humor.

Casual “airs” Wednesdays on Hulu and unless the viewer is a rabid fan of any of the performers,  give this one a miss.

Difficult People: Hulu Sitcom Sans the Humor (review)

Jullie and Billie Difficult People
As either Edmund Gwenn or Edmund Kean said on their deathbeds “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Difficult People, Hulu’s new sitcom is the second new comedy to be released on an unsuspecting public sans humor. Another comedy miss Kevin from Work, the ABC Family sitcom that is premiering on August 12, seems to prove, along with Hulu’s Difficult People, that this adage is correct. Both show’s have “died” as apparently comedy is very hard.

While Kevin from Work tried too hard, Difficult People seems to put very little effort into their attempt at tickling the funny bone. On Hulu, both the pilot and the second episode are up for viewing. Following Kevin from Work‘s lead “People” is not filmed in front of a live studio audience, probably for good reason.

The show follows the daily interaction of Julie (Julie Klausner) and her gay BFF Billy (Billy Eichner) both are “aspiring” comics (according to IMDb) who are in their 30s and still trying to make it. American Horror Story‘s Gabourey Sidibe has a tiny role as Billy’s boss, at the cafe where he works, and Andrea Martin (Aunt Voula in My Big Fat Greek Wedding) plays Julie’s mother.

The two leads in Difficult People play characters who are essentially unpleasant and shallow. Neither one has a single redeeming quality and this should be funny. Unfortunately the whole thing feels flat and uninspired. Similar to the ABC Family sitcom, this new series is throwing everything into the mix to see what will fly. While not quite kitchen sink humor, it relies on a shotgun approach with an emphasis on underplaying what is basically underwhelming humor to begin with.

Both Eichner and Klausner have a background in comedy. Billy is a favorite on Funny or Die (home of iSteve and Between Two Ferns, et al) and Julie has several comedies under her belt. Both of these performers have, for all intents and purposes, come from YouTube; Google’s attempt at creating another version of television and neither performer is weathering the change of venue very well.

YouTube can, and often does, stretch boundaries of what is funny. The shows which become hits do so as a niche bit of entertainment. Shows like Johnny Dynamo; a scripted comedy/drama, worked extremely well and attracted big names in its second season. While this is a good example of what works, the series was not a sitcom and it seems that this genre of TV does not work well when produced on a YouTube template.

There are sitcoms that can be considered successful regardless of the Google template. Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell works and is very funny if not a little flat at times. Rick and Morty also works, but only just, although there must be a good amount of fans who like the series as it starts its second season on Hulu.

It seems that Hulu and ABC Family are attempting to pull in a YouTube savvy audience with these new sitcoms and missing the mark as a result. Difficult People may eventually turn into a competent comedy without flat and awkward performances by its cast. *Sidenote. Why Gabourey Sidibe is in this debacle is a mystery. Presumably as a CV (resume) filler or an attempt to learn comedy…

Difficult People is a definite miss, but at least it has company as the abysmal Kevin from Work also misses the comedy mark by a mile. Sorry Hulu, you need to head back to the drawing board and perhaps think seriously about leaving the YouTube formula alone for awhile.

Verdict: Give this one a miss.