Casual: The Great Unknown – Season Two Finale (Review)

Logo for Hulu's Casual

Fred Savage directs the season two finale of Casual. “The Great Unknown”  picks up were “40” left off.  Alex and Valerie’s father has been dropped off at Alex’s house on a hospital gurney. He is dying. Everything, he says, is shutting down and he plans to euthanize himself in the house.

This is easily  the oddest of any episode on offer in Casual.  The tone is somber and somewhat downbeat.  It if were not for the fact that the show will be back in  2017, it feels like the end of the series.

There are moments of humor. Laura’s initial interaction with the pharmacist is amusing. He refuses to give her the medication for George Cole (Melamed) because she is underage. “it is dangerous,” he says.  “Fine,” Laura replies, “Which is the drano?”

Very funny.

While the show deals with euthanasia, which is legal in California, it also deals with Alex’s issues with his father. In many ways it forces him to face his problems and he grows up by the end of the episode.

He also goes to see Jennifer as a patient at the end.

Valerie goes to collect her mother who has, according to George, “recused herself from the situation.”  Her car is at Chili’s. As she starts to leave Alex reminds her  of this and Leon takes her to get the vehicle.

They arrive at the restaurant and it has been towed. As they go to collect the car, Leon and Valerie re-establish their friendship.  She gets her car but not her mother.

Laura calls Spencer to help with the  pharmacist. He still refuses to hand over the medication.  Laura gets angry and tells the man off. She then storms off.  Finally someone else gets the prescription for George.

Outside the pharmacy the subject of Spencer’s not dying comes up. Laura  reveals that since he is not going to die her feelings have changed. Spencer walks off.

Back at her uncle’s house, Laura talks to Valerie about Spencer and her unrealistic expectations of their relationship.  She wanted something that was “timeless” and not long lasting.  They also talk about Valerie going back to Drew which Laura counsels against.

Valerie, Alex and Laura empty the prescription into a glass of water for George to drink.  Before George drinks his  deadly cocktail, he apologizes for not being there for his kids.

The oddest scene in the entire episode is the sight of George’s two kids and grandchild taking apart those pills and pouring the powder into the glass of water.  When they finish Alex makes a joke. “I’m parched,” he says and grabs the glass. Both Valerie and Laura grab his hand..

After Cole drinks the water they order Chinese.  Valerie and Alex make up over fortune cookies while Laura talks to her grandfather. Valerie decides against returning to Drew. Just as Val tells  Alex  it is time for her and Laura to move out,  George dies.

It is a sober and somewhat tearful moment.  Thel brother and sister,  losing the man they hold responsible for their faults and flaws,  grieve silently together.

Later, Laura makes an apology to Spencer via DVDs and Leon helps Valerie and Laura move into their new home.

This was a brilliant end to an eclectic season.  Fred Savage deftly handled the subject material and the cast killed it in terms of subtle performances.  Tara Lynne Barr’s outburst in the pharmacy was beautiful to see.

Casual ends on a somber, yet upbeat, note. Valerie is moving on and Alex has at last talked to his father and is now in therapy. Laura has not given up on Spencer and Leon looks at last to be Val’s friend and not just Alex’s.

Check out the season finale on Hulu.






Guest Starring Fred Melamed as George Cole

Casual: The Magpie – Burning Down the House (Review)

Valerie, Laura, and Alex in Casual

Casual this week follows the end of Alex’s short term “office” affair with Fallon (it only took three episodes to realize that the character was played by personal favorite Britt Robertson ) who was also shagging (having sex with) the big boss, Jordan Anderson. Jordan who is also engaged to Alex’s ex Sarah.  Alex burns down his own metaphorical house by pursuing his ex in this episode and one senses he regrets it.

In “The Magpie” Alex and Sarah are drawn back together, slowly, with much arguing and frantic sex,  Laura discovers that her threesome with Spencer (Rhenzy Feliz)  and Aubrey (Dylan Gelula) has complicated things somewhat.  Valerie loses contact with Jack (Kyle Bornheimer) and new pal Jennifer (Katie Aselton) is being evasive since Valerie slept with their mutual friend. 

Sarah approaches Alex and the two have sex.  The day after, her cheating fiancé Jordan has a quick chat with Alex and assures him everything is okay. Anderson finishes his talk by saying that Sarah and he will be fine. Alex clearly does not believe his boss.

One splendid comic moment between Alex and his niece Laura also occurs the “morning after.” Laura mimics Sarah’s very verbal participation the night before. “Oh my God, Oh my God…” She accuses her uncle of performing an exorcism. After a moment of discussion Laura goes to leave.  Stopping she says, “Hey” and begins flinging imaginary holy water over Alex.

“The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ…”

Possibly the funniest scene of the episode and it is done  as a throwaway bit of humor. Just brilliant.

Valerie spends the episode having a bad day. One of her clients quits their sessions and Jennifer is clearly  not happy about the Jack situation.

Laura tries to keep things light with Spencer and Aubrey. When Spencer suggests a repeat of their threesome, Aubrey states flatly that the “Make a Wish” foundation is closed.  Laura ends up meeting Spencer later and they arrange a hot tub date. Aubrey is invited and later Laura tells her the date is off.

When Valerie come to pick up Laura from the library, Aubrey kisses her on the lips and things look as though they are becoming complicated. Later Laura complains to her mother that she cannot understand why sex has so many issues attached to it.  “Why does having sex have to mean anything,” she asks.

Sarah comes to see Alex again and they argue.  Then they have sex again, destroying part of the living room in the process. The first time the two slept together Sarah kept it a secret from Jordan. This time she tells him.

The consequences are immediate.

Jordan is in Alex’s office and the two begin to talk.  Anderson reveals that his real passion is not funding starters but destroying struggling business. The implication being that he mean’s Alex’s dating service.

Alex interjects, “Sarah told you huh?”  Jordan replies coldly:

“I’m gonna  burn your company to the ground.”

After the chat, Valerie hooks back up with Jack but not before telling Alex off for getting with Sarah again. She calls him a magpie and tells him that the birds are shot by farmers for getting too close to the barn.

Alex has a drink at a bar. In another splendidly awkward, yet hilarious, moment, a man comes up and starts talking to the upset Alex. As the man drones on and on about acting and his latest audition Alex snaps:

“Shut the f*ck up!”

There is a moment of silence and the man takes his drink and walks off.

At the start of this episode all three of the housemates, Laura, Valerie and Alex are in split screen. Each are alone in their respective beds. By the end, the split screens show Laura spooning with Spencer, Valerie having sex with Jack and Alex cuddled up next to Sarah, who has moved back in with him.

Of the three, only Alex looks pensive. He is staring into space while contemplating the upcoming demise of his company and Sarah’s return. The magpie has gotten the prize but at what cost?

Casual spends a lot of time proving that causal relationships are anything but. Each one exacts a toll of some sort from the participant.  Often the payoff is minimal for the reward and each seems to end on a sour note of sorts.  This is a clever bit of  writing that has to be watched by anyone in-between relationships.

The second season of this series has picked up exponentially from its first go around and airs Tuesdays on Hulu.  Stop by and check it out. You will be pleasantly surprised.


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.

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