In an easy-going and quirky premiere, Hulu’s new original comedy, “Casual,” strikes a unique balance between unfiltered social commentary and a mellow, indie mood. As divorcee Valerie (Michaela Watkins “New Girl”) and her daughter Lauren (Tara Lynne Barr, “God Bless America”) move in with Valerie’s directionless brother Alex (Tommy Dewey “The Mindy Project”), the trio half-heartedly takes on dating with warm humor and genuine acting. The pilot successfully sets up a premise with the potential to lead the characters in a multitude of directions as they tackle their personal lives in an unconventional setting.
During a nasty divorce, Valeria and her daughter move in with Alex, who takes it upon himself to push Valerie back into the dating scene. The two singles tackle casual dating while Lauren, a rambunctious teen, explores her own romantic life under the same roof.
Particularly refreshing is the pilot’s ability to bring comedy into serious and often taboo issues. The episode opens with a funeral scene, with the three leads passing unfiltered judgment on mourning family members. Commenting that the body in the casket looks low on embalming fluid, the characters reveal that the ceremony is held for none other than Valerie and Alex’s father. Turns out, the funeral was all a dream, but even in reality, this family has serious problems. The witty and mildly inappropriate remarks continue as themes of divorce and depression take form in the first episode, setting up darker tones to echo throughout the season. While the pilot wasn’t driven by plot or storylines, the characters’ candid honesty on life and love will be the reason “Casual” is worth sticking around for.
In particular, the comedy’s no-filter approach to sex offers a fresh perspective on today’s increasingly popular online dating scene. Alex creates a Tinder-esque platform called Snooger, even though he openly despises the superficiality of online dating. Unmerciful judgment ensues, making it easy to identify with the characters and their all-too-common dating mishaps.
While the pilot didn’t have a clear direction in narrative, the story hinged upon the genuine relationships of the three leads. Undeniably close, brother-sister duo Alex and Valerie are what every sibling pair secretly wishes they could be. Blind dates at the same restaurant might be crossing the line for some, but these two need their best friend hiding out in the bathroom to gossip about the dates from hell. Alex’s unapologetically cynical view on love complements Valerie’s delicate confidence after her divorce, setting up a relatable and comedic outlet for the two to take on their single lives one casual hookup at a time.
Now, add a sexually active teenager to the mix. Sporting a Polaroid logo T-shirt and lounging in a bedroom strung with Christmas lights and clothes-pinned pictures, Lauren’s version of casual is somewhat unexpected. On the pill since age 12, she clearly doesn’t shy away from public displays of affection and, without any parental backlash, the teen does whatever she pleases. The mother-daughter relationship is somewhat à la “Freaky Friday,” as therapist mother struggles to reign in her free-spirited daughter. Lauren adds an exciting energy to the otherwise subdued humor of the pilot, propelling the storyline to move forward with a connection to older and younger audiences alike.
All living under the same roof, Valerie, Alex and Lauren have a natural chemistry that is beautifully captured by the cinematography. The muted tones and tilted angles give the episode an indie vibe, scored with mellow string music in the background. Close-up shots that highlight the subtle nuances in facial expressions and body language add an intimate feel to the comedy and make it easy to connect to the characters from the opening scene.
While it won’t keep you on the edge of your seat, “Casual” has an easiness to it that is often undervalued in TV. It’s witty, with darker underlying themes that make it more personal than a raunchy sitcom. In a modern and offbeat family setting, this light comedy will remind the audience to not take themselves or life too seriously.