Wednesday, December 2, 2015

REVIEW: 'Casual' - Valerie and Alex Figure Themselves Out After Valerie's Big Mistake with Emmy in 'Dave'

Hulu's Casual - Episode 1.10 "Dave"

Valerie and Emmy search for Alex at home but find Laura instead. Alex looks to Leon for support. Valerie and Alex make up at Dawn and Charles' wedding.

The first season of Casual concluded today and it solidified itself as one of the better new shows to air in 2015. As the season progressed, the characters and the storytelling only got more compelling. The show found a way to make this show unique while getting so personal with these characters. This is a story that is so intimate to Alex, Valerie and Laura. The season peeled back the layers of why they are the way that they are in absolutely beautiful fashion. It has been so phenomenal to watch. It's a season-long arc that really lends itself well to the binge model. Again, that makes it questionable with Hulu's decision to release it on a weekly basis. But hopefully, now that the full season is out, more people will be willing to give it a shot because it just got better and better as the season progressed.

"Dave" isn't the best episode from the first season. The middle stretch of episodes - from Dawn's introduction to last week's Valerie-Emmy hookup - was terrific. It provided so much context as to how and why this weird family unit is so close to each other. At the start of the season, the three of them were at a funeral offering snarky commentary from the back row. They were isolated from the rest of their family - with good reason too as the season explained. Dawn and Charles' lifestyle and selfish tendencies forced Alex and Valerie to look after each other. Their parents' wedding forces big emotions from the pair. And yet, this episode is all about the fallout of their actions. They can't blame their parents for the mistakes they made at the rehearsal dinner. Valerie slept with Alex's open girlfriend, Emmy. Understanding that moment is the focus of this finale. At times, this episode really does feel like the creative team is just wrapping things up in a way that comes around full circle. That is slightly disappointing.

Valerie has to do some true soul searching to understand why she keeps making these mistakes in her life. She loves her family even though they are wildly inappropriate with each other. It's a bond of closeness that she cherishes. She risked all that happiness by sleeping with Emmy. She needs to understand why. At first, she just wants to deny that anything really happened. It was foreplay and nothing more. But she actually needs to look deep to understand what and why she has done this. She is a therapist but it's difficult for her to analyze herself. Her assistant, Leia, points out that maybe she didn't want Alex to be happy with anyone else but her. But that exposes a really selfish side to Valerie. She literally doesn't know who she is if she is capable of doing something like this.

Meanwhile, Alex is spiraling after seeing his sister and girlfriend together. He runs away to his only friend in the world, Leon. That arc this season has been fantastic. Alex openly admits to being the asshole who only comes around when he needs something and Leon is the guy who's too nice to turn him away. That is the underlying understanding of this friendship. And yet, Leon is actually there for Alex. He may not always love the "good acts" that Alex does for him. But he still appreciates this friendship. He tries to cheer Alex up. When that leads to the disastrous news that Carl the dog is dead, all seems hopeless for Alex. He would rather slam his car into the side of a building than deal with the unfair darkness of his life. That moment is fantastic because it shows just how uplifting but horrified Alex is that the sensor kicks in and saves his life. It's in that moment where Leon is a true friend for Alex by actually staying by him as he goes through this incredibly dark pain.

Even Laura's own need for this family is once again crushed as soon as she learns what Valerie has done to Alex. She is in a really vulnerable and upset state - which is always a poor time to make major decisions. She ends up on a pier where she meets a laid back fisherman named Dave. She is intrigued by his story of leaving in order to avoid problems and to see the world. She even wants to go with him. She doesn't care what her mother thinks because she hasn't been a mother or a friend recently. It's a bit odd just how easily the three members of this family sit down to talk about their issues. And yet, it's a truly magnificent sequence where everyone accepts that this family is what they need despite how weird and unconventional it mean be to outsiders.

The family sit-down is a great scene because it forces the characters to deal with some big issues while still being very funny. The audience has a better understand of Valerie than she does herself when she proclaims that she doesn't know who she is anymore. But it's also hilarious when Alex bluntly proclaims that Carl is dead. This scene also slightly feels like the show restoring its status quo. This isn't an important episode for Emmy. She's just there in the background and leaves as soon as Alex is willing to forgive the rest of his family. It's a moment that forces the three of them to come together again so that they can mirror the beginning of the season with the end of the season. They are at Dawn and Charles' wedding making snarky comments about the event and the people. But it's also a beautiful moment because of the hesitation Valerie has to hold Alex's hand again. The show really didn't earn Laura and Valerie holding hands. But when it came to that final beat of hesitation, it was an absolutely profound moment through its simplicity. That's something the show has always succeeded at this season. Even though this episode was a bit bumpier, it still did interesting things with its three main characters.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Dave" was written by Zander Lehmann and directed by Fred Savage.
  • Is Leia just always at Valerie's office? Every time Valerie drops by to vent about something, Leia is already there. That's a good thing too considering the insight Leia is able to provide to Valerie here.
  • Valerie also learns that Alex and Leon have still been hanging out this entire time. She learned that from Emmy of all people. Plus, Leon actually lied for Alex when Valerie called to learn if he knew where her brother was.
  • Alex and Valerie are still very uncertain if their parents will stay together as a married couple. And yet, they still attend the ceremony.
  • At the start of the season, I noted that this was a really strong role for Michaela Watkins. That continued to be true throughout the season. But Tommy Dewey also got significantly better once the show actually explored his personality. Tara Lynne Barr wasn't as compelling but she was still fine working opposite Watkins and Dewey. Plus, Frances Conroy, Fred Melamed and Eliza Coupe had a lot of fun with these roles.
  • The show has already been renewed for a second season. I can't wait to dig even deeper into these characters as they attempt to grow while still needing each other's support.