CASUAL is back. We left off with Valerie and Laura stumbling into a new apartment after “murdering” Val’s father with her brother Alex. There’s a lot to unpack there, but Casual isn’t one for unpacking. Instead it focuses on the… casual. Hulu decided to release the first three episodes of Casual together, and I’m glad they did. Because there’s not a lot there. That’s the thing about this show, you can’t trip over yourself trying to find plot, or even meaningful character decisions. They don’t exist. Casual has embraced what it is, it’s LA bougie chic that works to criticize other types of bougie people. Hipsters, flower power, and likeminded individuals; nothing is safe from the “War on Boug” headed by the bougie matrimony of brother and sister: Valerie and Alex.
The first episode is where the majority of the plot lies. If anyone thought Valerie and Leon were dating, like I did, you would be wrong. Valerie and Laura really only call on Leon when they need a servant to do their bidding. Neither of them really care for humanity or social interactions, and in a post-Trump world their neo-liberalism is so damn exhausting. My problem with Casual is only heightened by the world around us, but it would be the same had Hillary have won. Casual is not parody. It’s just not. Everything is played straight and every attempt at humor falls flat. So, when Valerie legitimately thinks her sink not being fixed is the world’s greatest problem, it is nothing short of grating.
Honestly, I feel like this show made a major misstep in not directly referencing Donald Trump. You would think, Valerie’s perpetually quasi-emotional-distant state of thinking would be under attack in contrast to Trump. But instead it’s a sink. Or it’s their mother wanting their father’s ashes. Or it’s being awkward around her brother. Or thinking the world of a table, or being grossed out by a sandwich: it’s all just mindless jargon from an earlier time. And it reflects how much this family has always looked down upon the rabble of the world, honestly. That Laura can look at a tattoo and think “God, I hate that black guy I fell in love with a minute,” instead of, “God, lotta black people dying out there. Maybe I should care more about it than a tattoo that’s located on my back, meaning I have to go out of my way to look at it, or have some very unfortunate bathroom mirror placement.” But no. The sort of heightened intellectualism that this family holds themselves to is a lie, because when actual problems happen, they’ve already convinced themselves that they’re their only concern.
It’s Ayn Randian philosophy, honestly. And I don’t want to get too into it, but I think it’s important too, because it characterizes the whole breath of the show, and the problem I have with it. Valerie and Alex tell people they are liberals, but they have more in common with Mark Cuban than they do Bernie Sanders. Their individualism has eclipsed all other ideologies and their social bubble gets smaller and smaller as they weed more people out of their life who have nothing to do with them. But does that make the show bad?
It depends on its intention. Alex’s half-assed reference to Trumpism when speaking to a German Air B&B attendee is an acknowledgment of the times. But again, in a very Randian way, Alex doesn’t care about the issues at hand as much as he cares about his own views. He essentially describes Trumpism as having two outcomes: egalitarian society, or tribal warfare. It’s hard to say if he’s saying the former is the result of a pushback or an embrace, but it’s supposed to be played as comedy when the German says tribal warfare (get it? Nazis). The overall feeling I get from it is that Alex is such a mess, that he has no idea what exists beyond the gates of Los Feliz. And maybe that’s what I’m supposed to be feeling?
The first three episodes are an exercise in getting you back into the groove. Alex feels unwanted, Valerie feels lost, and Laura is trying to figure it out. All of it works, but none of it feels like it’s worth caring about. Are we really supposed to feel emotional when Alex and Valerie say goodbye to their father’s ashes in Burbank? And when their mother casually brings up that Valerie has a different father altogether, are we supposed to do anything other than what Laura did – laugh? If anything Casual’s main conceit in this different world we live in, is to hammer home the very notion of nihilism. Anything else feels like a misstep. And that’s the problem with having a show like Casual in today’s society – by not being parody, nor satire, nor fantasy, and not even commenting on the real world, we’re left with a show that audience members will have very strong reactions to what it should be.
There isn’t much cohesiveness to these first three episodes. The first one has to deal with reacclimating us to the series and reintroducing their mother. The second involves the two siblings going on a late night excursion into Burbank to spread their father’s ashes. And the last episode deals with a table. At times, I could not help but feel like this show would completely embrace the quiet craziness of itself and have Alex and Valerie hook up with each other after finding out they’re “only” half siblings. I still hold by it. If these bougie kids were Hapsburgs it would’ve absolutely have happened by now.
It’s impossible to predict anything about this show, because it is so rooted in individualism and the fleeting emotions that go with that. Valerie is committed to changing her life, which might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever written. The amount of caveats in that sentence is ridiculous. And that’s the problem with Valerie, as it always has been. She’s bad at everything. She’s a bad person, sister, therapist, mother, lover and friend. Alex is better than her, at times, but also tends to be bad at everything. And Laura is… I’m not sure.
There are rarely emotional climaxes or resolutions to any of these stories. Valerie might be a teacher, Alex is going on a budget, and Laura gets a job getting signatures – but this feels like nothing more than filler. As we continue down into the realm of Casual I think it’s important that this show makes more of a choice. I’ve never felt like such a show desperately needed Hillary Clinton to win before as much as Casual. That’s going to be a problem going forward.
Season 3, Episode 1-3 (S03E01-03)
Casual airs Tuesdays on Hulu
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.
Arman Mohazzabfar | Contributor