CASUAL Review: “Death and Taxes”


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After a surprisingly great episode last week, delivers probably its worst episode yet. I don’t want to go into name calling, but most everything about this episode is trash. Laura is the only character that shows any progression, both moral and emotional, and yet it’s relegated to such a sideline that it barely makes anything of an impact on the episode as a whole. Alex has completely gone off the rails and Valerie makes such confusing decisions that it’s impossible to say what the takeaway is here.

Right out of the gate it’s bewildering. So last week we were left with a massive blowup between Valerie, Alex and Sarah. Both Valerie and Sarah leave Alex, the former emotionally, the latter physically, and before Sarah leaves she tells Alex that he has creepy eyebrows. A remark that plays a much bigger role than it should. So anyways, we open this episode with Leon meeting a girl, they hit it off, have sex and start dating. All the while he is ignoring Alex’s calls. Then we are introduced to what I can only describe as the opening to the Pixar movie Up, with Leon and his girlfriend. And instead of cancer breaking them apart, it’s her cheating. And if all this wasn’t confusing enough, with nobody to ignore Leon from Alex’s calls, when he finally arrives it literally looks like no time has passed. So was Leon in a coma and we were witnessing his dreams, did he start dating/living/brutally breaking up with a girl in less than a week or has the Cole family stayed stagnant for months. No matter if you choose A, B, or C the answer is D – it’s all stupid.

The first thing Alex says to Leon is in reference to the eyebrow comment. “Haha OK,” you say, “But that’s funny.” Sure. You know what’s even funnier? When it becomes a serious plot point for the episode in how Alex chooses to hide his emotions. “Haha, no that’s not funny at all.” Well too bad. Alex is obsessed over this eyebrow thing and it just sort of solidifies the death of his character to me. He looks and acts like an aggressive Big Lebowski, which might sound cool, but if you really think about it, being aggressive is the antithesis to why we like the Big Lebowski in the first place. Alex used to be someone who was aggressively rational, or moral to an emotional extent. And over the course of the last five or six episodes he has become mean, biting, passive aggressive, vain, and unapologetic. I totally understand that when things are going bad, the worst versions of yourself come out. But the way he kicked Sarah to the side was baffling. And it truly seems like his only regret during that entire process was her remark on his eyebrows.

Alex decides to try to monopolize Jennifer’s workspace and receive a therapy session from her without making an appointment. The back and forth between them is pointless, so eventually Jennifer agrees to give him one hour in her lobby as a friend, which is strange to me because the only other time we’ve seen them speak to each other is when Alex barged into her office previously. I guess that’s what friends are for? Anyways Jennifer suggests that Alex and Valerie need to untwine their lives from each other.

Valerie is not in a good place either. Before meeting ex-husband Drew to finalize the last few parts of their divorce she scarfs down donuts in her car. Drew calls her out on it, but he’s particularly unhappy. It turns out he and his current girlfriend are going through something and to be honest, Valerie is happy about it. OK, that’s fine I guess. But what’s not fine is that after the discussion, Valerie sees one of her former clients walking around and decides to follow him with Drew. Probably a bad decision for a licensed therapist. They follow them to a diner where Drew and Valerie have a conversation about sex and it becomes very clear that they are going to have sex with each other at some point. The whole thing comes out of nowhere and I just don’t really get Valerie. I think the problem is the tone at which Casual goes about things. I often feel like it tries to portray Valerie as a champion of divorced women, rather than what she is, a divorced woman figuring stuff out. And it does get that right most of the time, but then you have these moments the show almost idolizes her despite her horrible life choices. So when her and Drew passionately kiss I feel like the show is telling me that this is a good moment, but it reads as nothing but. Also what kind of a guy is Drew? So he gets in a fight with his girlfriend and that paves the way for hooking up with ex-wife? Great , Drew.

Laura on the other hand is showing more maturity than any of the adults. Spencer and her have had a pretty healthy outlook on his imminent death. Laura wants to spend as much time with him as she can, because why not? He’s a great guy and even if they might not call it dating, they’re dating. So Laura sets up a date where they go to funeral homes and a casket warehouse to try out the goods before Spencer passes. He’s totally down and it’s a pretty great strange, sweet date. It’s such a shame that such good character development has to be packaged with everything else in this episode. When Spencer jokes about his death, Laura is taken aback and begins to cry. She tells him that she doesn’t want him to die and they embrace and kiss. Remember, Laura got into this relationship because of the lack of commitment. But in the process of letting her guard down and opening up, she’s realized that this is the kind of thing she wants to commit herself to. Maybe not forever, but longer than the amount of time she originally signed up for. It’s a beautifully put together scene that rings as bittersweet, and although it might feel a little Disney, it does a very good of getting the point across.

Unfortunately Casual decided to save the worst for last. Someone thought it would be a good idea to throw in the most stereotypical, borderline offensive, Magical Negro character I have seen in a long time. It’s just baffling. A homeless black guy rummages passed Alex and asks for money. Alex gives him money and the Magical Negro randomly gives unsolicited advice that is so on the nose that it just left me dumbfounded. This goes back to one of my original problems with the show. The tone is absolutely awful because it’s impossible to understand what’s in jest or not. Because the problem with this show isn’t a lack of black people or insensitivity, Leon is black and so is Spencer and they’ve had good roles on the show. It’s because maybe Casual thought this scene would read as ridiculous and funny, but in actuality it reads as a legitimate Magical Negro scenario like this is The Legend of Bagger Vance. It’s just a really horrible bow on an already poor present that is the best way I can summarize this episode.

Season 2, Episode 11 (S02E11)
Casual airs Tuesdays on Hulu


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Twitter: @armanbfar

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