Review: 'Casual' concludes season 2 with death, love, and more great acting
Casual just concluded its second season. I sang the show's praises in non-spoiler fashion at the start of the season and I have a few spoiler-y thoughts on the finale, and season 2 as a whole, coming up just as soon as you insult my eyebrows...
"Most people I know have very different relationships with their siblings." -Jennifer
The structure of season 2 was similar in a lot of ways to the first, particularly in the two adult story arcs: Val again spends a good chunk of the year in a relationship with a guy who's much less serious than she is (even if Jack got her references in a way the hot twentysomething didn't), while Alex spends a long time behaving like an immature sociopath before turning deeply introspective. Doing 13 episodes instead of 10 allowed the show to better foreground the arcs — season 1 started in a deep hole for me with Alex, and if I hadn't been able to screener-binge until I got to the character turn, I might have given up — and also allowed for charming digressions like seeing what Leon is up to when he's not at Alex's beck and call. But as a whole, it felt a bit flabbier and more repetitive than season 1, and I wonder if 10 is just a better episode count for these indie film-style half-hour relationship dramas with occasional humor. Still, all it would take was a moment like Val smiling in Jack's hotel bed, or Jordan slowly combusting internally at the thought of Alex having had sex with both the women in his life(*), to bring me right back on board again.
(*) Surely, I'm not the only one who occasionally liked to imagine the Snooger story this season as being an alt-universe Mad Men plot where Don stole Trudy away from Pete, then abandoned her because he's just that much of an ass.
And things again came together wonderfully — if often uncomfortably(*) — in the concluding episodes, as Alex blew up everything in his life again (but worse than before), Val decided she and Laura had to move out of Alex's house, Laura realized that she couldn't handle a relationship with a non-terminal Spencer, and Mr. Cole returned to make one last impossibly unfair request of his children. The series tends to be at its most potent when Alex and Val are in the same scene, and preferably in the same frame, and that lingering shot of the siblings holding hands as they realize their useless father has died was incredibly powerful. (I'm glad Fred Savage is sticking with the acting thing again for a while, but he's also a terrific director.)
(*) It was during Val's unwanted surprise birthday party that I decided someone needs to make an app that will fast-forward through the more mortifying moments on shows like this, while providing a text summarizing what happened in the interim. As it is, there are some episodes of this, or Togetherness, or Love, or what have you, that take twice as long to watch as the running time, because I keep pausing in the midst of a moment too embarrassing to watch head-on, do other things, then return in hopes that things have gotten better in my absence. (They don't.)
That the season ends with Val and Laura moving into a new place (with Leon driving the moving truck, of course) seems healthy, both for them and Casual itself. Had the show come back next year telling the same basic stories in the same basic status quo for a third year, even the performances and the sharp dialogue might not have been enough to shake the feeling that the series has only the one trick that it keeps doing over and over. But the mere fact of Val recognizing how unhealthy it was for the three of them to share a house is enough growth for her, and the show, that even if things revert back at some point, it'll feel emblematic of this particular family's dysfunction, and not of a series without any kind of long game.
Another excellent season, and for all my logistical frustrations with keeping up with Peak TV, I'm glad the current TV universe has room for a little show like this that allows Michaela Watkins to do all these enormously great things.
What did everybody else think? How do you feel this stacked up to season 1? Did you watch weekly, as Hulu scheduled it, or do a binge or two like me? If you're a follower of the Mumblecore Extended Cinematic Universe, were you surprised Jennifer turned out to be not evil (albeit also not perfect) after Katie Aselton's stint on Togetherness? Are there any remaining Life Unexpected fans who were happy to have Liz Tigelaar writing for Brittany Robertson again, however briefly?