If you’ve been looking for a new show that’ll gently pull at your heartstrings with some light humor, combined to moments of truth that hit a little too close to home — the kind of show that’s carried by a great story but also feels like it’s actually talking about you — it’s time to turn your eyes to Casual.
The plot of Casual is quite simple: A divorced mom named Valerie (Michaela Watkins) and her teenage daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr) live with Valerie’s brother Alex (Tommy Dewey), a bachelor who co-founded a dating website. Unfortunately, neither having been married once or enabled thousands of dating experiences for strangers make these two any good at finding a rebound. Meanwhile, Laura confronts her own high school struggles, and the three of them try their best to share what little relationship advice they have.
While this kind of setting can sound too vague to be compelling, there’s a touching simplicity to Casual, and the very personal look it takes at modern dating feels more relevant than ever. A great part of this uncanny familiarity comes from Jason Reitman, who directed several episodes, including the pilot.
If you’re a little familiar with Reitman’s filmography, you’ve already noticed the recurring themes and style: Stories about family and love that subtly draw you in as soon as you see them on screen. They’re comedies, but with a dark undertone that just hits the nail on the head. And they perfectly convey that everyday awkwardness we know all too well. So if you’ve enjoyed any of Reitman’s movies before, there’s no doubt you’ll find a match in Casual.
It’s hard not to think of George Clooney’s character in Up In The Air when you see Alex: While Clooney’s Ryan Bingham has “set up a way of life that basically makes it impossible for him to have any kind of human connection,” in the own words of his colleague Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), Alex is trapped in the irony of having created a dating website and still being so terribly unlucky at finding love.
When you’ll see Valerie’s adorable yet so awkward attempts at making friends again, you might remember the struggle of Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary in Young Adult, a divorced woman who decides to get back to her hometown and build the life she dreamed when she was young, taking things right where she left them. The difference here being that Mavis is so desperate she becomes delusional, while Valerie’s genuineness will echo anyone’s clunky strategy to build bonds at an age where so many things feel already settled.
There’s something of Juno, too, in the uneasy way Laura navigates high school — although the unusualness of her experience comes not from pregnancy, but from a sex tape she made. And her timid attempts at bringing the family back together, notably by secretly inviting her divorced dad to the Thanksgiving dinner, will remind you of Juno’s own puzzled and emotional confrontation with the future adoptive parents of her baby.
After a premiere in October 2015 on Hulu, the show is currently in its second season and has already been confirmed for a third. It’s been nominated for Best Television Series – Comedy or Musical at the 2016 Golden Globes, and strongly praised for its witty dialogue as much as the powerful performances of the cast.