CASUAL Review: “99”

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This week’s episode of is unlike the rest. Most episodes of the show follow a certain format: Valerie, Alex and Laura break into separate plots before all meeting up during the third act and resolving whatever problem they may have. This episode does not seek to resolve anything, but only add more confusion. It’s episodes like this that have me hesitate; Casual would be a much better show if it was released to be binged. The weekly format for Casual does it no justice and makes episodes like this week’s particularly falter.

We begin in 1999, and go through the college lives of Alex and Valerie. The episode is particularly focused on Alex, a Billabong hoodie wearing, Gen X kid who wants nothing more than to be there for his pregnant sister. In a lot of ways this feels like the genesis of their relationship. When Drew refuses to be there for Valerie during her unexpected pregnancy, Alex steps up, breaks up with his girlfriend, and focuses all of his attention on Valerie. This is what the episode does well, showing how (and why) Alex becomes the person he is. Valerie on the other hand seems to lack any sort of motivation, and as far as the episode shows, if it wasn’t for Alex, Valerie would’ve completely faltered. Which goes against the perception we had watching the show: that the psychiatrist older sister is what’s holding her younger brother together.

Outside of the very straightforward ideas this episode is confusing and unsure what it wants to be. It kind of feels like someone on the staff watched those episodes of Friends where Monica was fat and Chandler loved “Flock of Seagulls” and said, “Haha, that was funny, let’s do that.” The 90’s-ness of it all is not only distracting, it’s unnecessary and at times, incorrect. Why would Alex be obsessed with a Rubik’s cube in ’99? You’re really telling me that the guy who was into a NEW STAR WARS (yeah, that’s a plotline) would be turned off by N64 but play with a Rubik’s cube in all hours of the day? And also, the whole conceit of a Rubik’s cube being “impossible” is ridiculous for 1999. There were Rubik’s cube SPEED COMPETITIONS in 1999! What is Casual trying to say – no one won? It doesn’t make any sense. The fashion and the price hikes and the music aside, I truly do not understand why anyone in the room OK’d a Rubik’s cube as a plot device to show the basis of Alex’s interest in programming. There are so many better ways. Like the internet.

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We flash forward to today only briefly, and we enter with Laura, washing up in a rundown gas station bathroom, ready to see Casey in Sacramento for the first time. When Laura finds Casey, helping or hitting on a girl who looks strikingly like her, a dejected Laura curses out Casey and walks away. Really? That’s the end of to this plot? So, all those times Casey was like, “Please stay here,” and, “Underage girls shouldn’t have sex with their bosses,” and, “No, really, stay in LA, do not come with me to Sacramento,” it took a mere glimpse of Casey smiling at an intern to realize the mistake she made? Great.

Judy more or less breaks up with Alex over the tacos that he and Valerie would eat together in the 90’s. And while this is happening, Valerie is explaining to Jack that she cheated on him with the guy from her UCB class. When asked why, Valerie describes herself as trying to bring herself down to zero. This is the key to the episode, and to my theory for the entire season.

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If you’ve stuck with me from the beginning, you would know that, really since episode one of this season, I’ve thought that Alex and Valerie were going to hook up. The incest theory, and if you watch Game of Thrones or Taboo, you would know incest is hot right now. There’s a lot that go into this, Valerie’s dream in season one, Alex only being able to have sex with Judy in front of Valerie’s house, the sexual tension between the two after finding out their only half-siblings, and this latest piece of evidence about Valerie actively trying to sabotage her own life. Is it a stretch – yeah, of course – but the big thing is the direction we’re headed in. Now that Judy has pulled back from Alex and Valerie sabotaged her thing with Jack, the two of them are single and vulnerable in their own ways. Alex cared for Valerie and was somewhat jealous of Drew being able to step in and be the father, Valerie liked being cared for by her brother. Again, is this a stretch, is it creepy, yes, but this is how you heighten Casual. And honestly, this is the only reason I can think of why we would care that Valerie and Alex are actually half-siblings.

The end is fast approaching and I am curious to see if my incest theory turns out to be an actual plot that they’ve been building for multiple seasons now. This episode served more to explain why Alex feels so close to Valerie, and why Valerie feels so helpless without Alex. Outside of that, much of the episode was filler, unless it really is building to something crazy.

TB-TV-Grade-C

Season 3, Episode 12 (S03E12)
Casual airs Tuesdays on Hulu

Read all of our reviews of Casual here.
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Arman is a Seattle-based writer who often lives in LA and wants to be in New York. He has worked on Billy on The Street and Black-ish. He also loves sandwiches.
Follow Arman on Twitter: @armanbfar
Keep up with all of Arman’s reviews here.

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3 Comments

    • I sought out a recap of this episode solely because of the mid scene changes to younger actors. I’m surprised that Arman didn’t mention it. And I was even more puzzled at the end when I saw that Ivan Reitman directed the episode!

      Before I speculate, I’ll add that I think the casting for the younger Drew was excellent. Not only did he look the part, but he sounded the part. So I thought I saw different actors at the end of the scene right before the first commercial break. (Hulu doesn’t make it easy to back up once the commercials start.) It was so quick that my wife didn’t notice, so I thought I just imagined it. And then it happened later. We were able to back up and verify. Anyway … it was as if we needed the real Valerie and Alex who sorta kinda looked younger to establish the characters and then we were given glimpses of what they looked like — as though it’s what went on the inside that really matters. I don’t know. Odd for sure.

      And for the record, I agree that I’d have preferred some throw away line to help illustrate why Alex was obsessed with a Rubik’s Cube in 1999. Valerie: “Where’d you find that thing?” Alex: “Dad’s Box of Shame. I also brought my Milli Vanilli CD to school with me.”

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