The Best New Show of the Fall is Not on Cable or Netflix

By Dustin Rowles | TV | October 29, 2015 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | TV | October 29, 2015 |


Despite witnessing the ugly divorce of my own parents — a break-up that involved affairs, a suicide attempt, and a three-month stint in a mental hospital — in my adult years, divorce has become a more foreign concept. It’s something that happens to other people. It’s something that happens in the movies or television. It’s not something that happens to me or those around me.

I’m getting to that age, however, where the facades behind the happy marriages of those around me have begun to strain. The ends of them have begun to happen with more frequency. The friend of a friend who got a divorce has given away to the friend who got a divorce. The honeymoon years are over, the chaos of young children has passed, and couples are beginning to look around, reassess and ask themselves, “Am I still happy?” It’s not as easy as it once was: There are so many more responsibilities, less time, and fewer opportunities to actually experience happiness.

That’s where the phenomenal HBO series Togetherness is at after its first season: In the midst of a happily married couple realizing that they’re not as happy as they once thought. Hulu’s fantastic new series Casual jumps ahead six months to a year to the aftermath of the divorce, but it strikes a similar tone and feels as genuine and honest about its characters as did Togetherness.

As Emily noted in her review of the first two episodes, it also has a sensibility similar to that of Transparent, and though it may be coincidence, Casual’s lead Michaela Watkins is close friends with Transparent’s creator Jill Solloway. Both series have an organic, improvised feel. Both series are also intermittently heartbreaking and funny, but funny in the sense that relating to someone else’s pain can be, like two people having a laugh over a shared sense of loss.

“You know that part where your heart feels so heavy it feels like it will literally fall out of your chest?”

“Totally! That’s so funny, because I felt the same thing just last week!”

That’s not to say that Casual is a bleak series. It’s not, but it’s an honest one, and it seeks to find the humor in the devastation of loss and the awkward challenges of finding someone new. Michaela Watkins — who starred in Trophy Wife and created Benched, two shows that were undeservedly cancelled after one season — stars as Valerie, a forty-something Mom whose husband just left her for a grad student in one of his classes (it’s a cliche for a reason). She and her daughter move in with her layabout brother, Alex, the co-creator of a dating website. Alex (The Mindy Project’s Tommy Dewey) is like a caddish version of Jason Ritter, but he’s nevertheless likable, especially once you realize that his womanizing is a pretense, that he’s simply too afraid to reveal his true self for fear of rejection.

Valerie’s teenage daughter (Tara Lynne Barr) also breaks convention — she’s not the sullen Dana Brody we’re so used to seeing lately. She and her mother are close, but she has her own life, she’s adventurous, and she’s not afraid to be herself. She’s even willing to embrace the emotional consequences of it.

It’s Watkins, however, that shines. After bouncing around in supporting roles where she played the dippy ex-wife on Trophy Wife or the avenging bitch on Enlightened or a 16 year old in Wet Hot American Summer, the former SNL cast member has finally landed a role where she seems completely at home. After two decades classical theater training, improv at the Groundlings, sketch comedy at SNL and recurring sitcom work, Casual seems like the perfect fit for all of her talents. She’s simply incredible here.

With the exception of Community, which I’d already become invested in before it moved to Yahoo, there hasn’t been a streaming show that releases one episode a week addictive enough to force me to seek it out without the benefit of a DVR. Casual changed that: I watched the first four episodes earlier this week, and waited impatiently for the fifth episode to arrive on Hulu. It’ll be an easy show to continue keeping up with because the characters stick with you. There’s a poignancy to the series that lingers, and now I find myself thankful for the ability to mull over each episode for a few days before moving on to the next.

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