Saturday, October 10, 2015

REVIEW: 'Casual' - Valerie Ponders How She Got to Where She Is in Her Romantic Life in 'Friends'

Hulu's Casual - Episode 1.02 "Friends"

Alex spends the day with Valerie's one night stand and winds up having a crazy night. Valerie goes out with a group of 20-something girls her coach her on dating young men. Laura gets in trouble at a high school house party.

In "Friends," Valerie goes out to a bar with her 20-something assistant and her group of friends. Early in the night's conversation one of the friends asks Valerie a simple yet complex question: How did she get to where she is? It is a vague question that could pertain to any aspect of Valerie's life - or her life as a whole. Valerie knows that her assistant has told these girls a lot about her. They don't think it's weird for a 39 year old woman to be hanging out with them. They want to listen to the wisdom she has acquired over her years. That's why they are so curious about the answer. And yet, Valerie starts talking about the bad and tragic decisions she made that led to a long marriage and horrible divorce to a bad man. That's the story of her character at this moment in time. Her work life is stable. Her practice is thriving. But the girl asking the question was more curious about her career than her personal life. This little slip up doesn't completely derail the night. But it does show where Valerie's head is at right now in a very simple but telling way.

It turns out that Valerie's one night stand didn't go as well as it initially seemed. Both parties brought something into that moment that created awkwardness. They are both recovering from long-term relationships unsure of how to act in this situation. That's a significant character shading for Leon over the simple "guy Valerie picks up at a bar and takes home." The two of them didn't do anything but sit awkwardly awake all night. It's an experience both want to get out of but don't know how. It's very telling that this isn't something either one of them is used to. They are uncomfortable but don't know how to get out of it. Alex soon gets involved and makes it so these characters will continue to live in awkwardness even after the morning has come.

Valerie is upset at Alex for making breakfast for Leon - which means Laura is eating with a stranger at the table. She is concerned about that making a horrible impression on her. It may very well but that concern doesn't linger for very long. Valerie wants to do right by her daughter in a way that wasn't as damaging as her own upbringing. And yet, she also frankly opens up to Laura about the terribleness of the night with Leon without very much convincing on Laura's part. Valerie just spurts it all out for her daughter to hear. She's dealing with things in her own way that's amusing but also just slightly off.

The episode then finds a way to get all three members of this family separated and going to parties. It's actually not that hard to do. They all have plans and are able to go their separate ways with relative ease without telling each other anything about where they are going. It's a relaxed environment - but that still creates problems later. "Friends" does something very compelling with Valerie's portion of this structure. Alex notes that hanging out with attractive 20-something girls always gets him out of this awkward emotional feeling. But the show portrays that concept through Valerie. She's the one going out with girls much younger than her - and then hitting on an attractive younger guy. With Alex, he's just trying to help Leon get over his dry spell. Sure, it's weird how quickly Alex latches onto this new friendship with Leon. And yet, it does create an amusing final act for the episode.

As much independence as these characters have over their lives, they are still connected to one another. When Laura and Alex's parties end in jail, Valerie is the one who comes and bails them out - including Leon. This has always been an uncomfortably close family. That has affected how all of them handle romantic relationships. Valerie is desperate to get back out there following her divorce. Alex only remembers details about the women he's with if they come around frequently. Laura learns that her boyfriend may be cheating on her and she doesn't really know how she feels about it. These are complicated emotions that are brought about by both the closeness and independence of the characters. It's a tricky line to balance without it feeling like the other two always get in the way of the other about to have sex. And yet, it's a pace that works incredibly well in this episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Friends" was written by Zander Lehmann and directed by Jason Reitman.
  • Laura is also the latest teenage daughter who's interested in art as exemplified by photography archetype. It's familial and keeps her story from breaking out in an exciting way. Also, she may be developing a crush on someone else.
  • Laura's friends seem incredible dumb. That makes them frustrating and annoying the moment they appear on screen. Why is it fun watching them not know that the word they are looking for is wave?
  • Valerie's assistant could really be an annoying character but Julie Berman's line delivery keeps making her a fun and different voice in the narrative.
  • The trip to a spin class was a little unnecessary though. It showed just how different Valerie is to the world around her in a much less subtle way.
  • I'm looking forward to meeting Valerie and Alex's parents. Family issues are just underneath the surface just waiting to come up.
  • It's uncertain if Valerie and Leon are being positioned as a couple the audience is suppose to root to get together. And yet, they are kindred spirits just doing their best to deal with their uncomfortable and awkward lives. Still, is Leon going to be pursuing a relationship with her all season?