Wednesday, June 8, 2016

REVIEW: 'Casual' - Valerie Searches for Friends While Alex Becomes Fixated on Being a Good Teacher in 'Trivial Pursuit'

Hulu's Casual - Episode 2.02 "Trivial Pursuit"

Alex embraces his new role as Laura's teacher but his methods are questionable. Valerie reaches out to old friends and makes an unsettling discovery.

Alex really wants to be the best at home-schooling Laura. It's something he's very serious about. It takes priority over his entire life. He becomes fixated on it. At the start of the season, he was all about self-improvement. It was just the next phase in handling the complicated emotions of his breakup with Emmy. Serving as a teacher for Laura offers him a new outlet to channel his energy. But it too feels like just the next phase for him. It's something he takes very seriously. He devotes all of his time into it to make sure that Laura's schedule is packed with as much meaningful material as possible and not just the bare minimum. He wants this to be a good thing. But that's what he wants. It's not what Valerie or Laura want. He doesn't take their feelings into consideration. He sees this as something that he needs to do. But he's not doing it in a way that opens a meaningful dialogue with the rest of the family. That's not something he can afford to do right now. Laura's future literally hangs in the balance of this latest project of his. It's not just his life he's responsible for right now. He needs to accept that and find a way to properly balance everything in his life so it can ultimately be very healthy for him.

Alex just casually tosses aside his latest obsessions as well. In the season premiere, he was all about a healthy lifestyle. But here, the episode opens with him throwing away all of that food just so he can make waffles for breakfast. It's an absolutely gorgeous sequence. Jason Reitman really is such a fantastic director and this show suits his sensibilities so well. But it also highlights just how wasteful and cavalier Alex is about his life. He was committed to healthy living for a moment. And now, he's committed to home-schooling. There's no telling what his next fascination will be or how long it'll last. However, he can't just give up and not teach Laura. This is something he has committed to. He wants to be a part of her life. He is overbearing in the beginning. He wants to approach things with more than enough substance. The curriculum only calls for two full days of classes. That's what Laura was expecting this to be. The core material is the knowledge she needs the most. She doesn't need all the extraneous electives that Alex is pushing onto her. It's not a genuine bond between the two characters. That builds and builds until they finally have a confrontation about it.

School is very important. It's something that Laura needs right now. She can't just drop out and expect to have an easier life doing something else. But it's not the only thing that should be a part of her life. Valerie wants her to have typical high school experiences as well. She wants Laura to be able to go out with friends and enjoy the world. Alex has the opposite approach. He wants to turn everything into a lesson. He sees Laura as a privileged, rich, white girl who needs to make something of the good fortune she actually has in life. He's not wrong to think that. But he also comes across too strong. It gets to the point where Laura doesn't actually learn anything because they spend most of their time together arguing about the merits of the material. Laura questions everything that Alex does which infuriates him. He has had no prior teaching experience. And here, he's only doing it to delay dealing with his own problems. Instead of figuring out what to do when he gets an offer to be bought out of his company, he doubles down on the lesson plan. This plot builds to a climatic scene at a bar's trivia night. He needs to make sure she has the knowledge to succeed in this world and not have to look up every answer on her phone. He wants her to make something of her life. But trying to force that on her isn't a good thing at all. She's not learning anything because Leon is the one providing all the answers. Laura is along for the ride but she's not present. The balance is out of whack. The two need to find a way to work things out together. It does seem like they get that resolution by the end of the episode. But that only means Alex has more time to think about the problems in his own life.

Elsewhere, Valerie wants Laura to have a normal high school experience with friends because she has realized she didn't have that growing up. She spirals a little bit throughout this episode because Laura points out just how hypocritical she is. Valerie believes that high school friends are people who'll be in your life for a long time. That's what normal means to her. That's what Laura should be aspiring to have. But instead Laura just points out how Valerie didn't have that. She's true with that assumption. Over these two seasons so far, Valerie's life has largely focused on taking care of Alex and Laura, going to work and getting back in the dating scene post-divorce. She hasn't really expressed a desire to want to have a social life away from her family that doesn't involve dating. She really doesn't have a close friend - at least not in the same way that Alex has Leon. She wants to prove everyone wrong by saying she has a ton of close friends. But her needing to prove that point only further highlights the true dysfunction in her life. Work and family are really the only important things to her. They have been for a long time. So, it's startling for her to see how much things have changed with some old friends when she makes the effort to reach out again.

It appears that Drew got all of their friends in the divorce. That's not technically true at all. They didn't choose him over her in regards to how their marriage ended. He simply made more of an effort to stay in touch with these people. Valerie didn't. She has instead focused on taking care of Alex and Laura while also improving her own life. She was trying to figure her stuff out - only for that to get more complicated as the first season went along. But now, Valerie wants friends. She wants that relationship in her life. She doesn't want to just hang out with Alex and Laura or go to work or go on dates that possibly lead to sex. She wants more in her life as well. But all of her friends have moved on. When she reaches out to Karen Dennis, it shows the disconnect between their two realities. Nothing has changed for Karen. But as soon as Valerie enters the picture again, things get awkward immediately. These friends all understand who Valerie is. But they have all grown up and apart as well. They don't know if they want her in their lives anymore. That's a surprising reaction Valerie receives. She sees herself as being replaced and destined to be all alone in this existence caring for a family.

But Valerie gets a glimmer of hope as well. So far, this season has introduced Jennifer as the new woman in the same office space as Valerie who is a disruption because of her remodeling. She has been painted as inconsiderate because her efforts to change the building are affecting how Valerie does her job. Again, the specifics of her job as a therapist really aren't that important. She is much more intrigued by what happens outside the office than what her patients are saying on the couch. But it's meaningful that this is an environment she enjoys spending a lot of her time in. And now, it's being invaded by someone she doesn't know. And yet, when Jennifer does finally appear onscreen (played by The League's Katie Aselton), she is the nicest woman who is very understanding of the chaos she has created in the building. She's sorry and wants to make things right. It seems like the start of a new friendship for Valerie. She was focusing so much on her friends from the past. She has changed since they were close. She needed to focus on finding new friends who match her current life. She may have just done that with Jennifer - though only time will tell.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Trivial Pursuit" was written by Liz Tigelaar and directed by Jason Reitman.
  • It really is impressive that Leon knows the answers to so many different subjects. It's a nice new character detail for him - in an episode that also lets the audience know he went to law school but now works as a music composer.
  • Also, it seems like Leon no longer needs to rely on Alex in order to get laid. That's improvement this season. A college girl is actually interested in him. There's no telling how far he got with her because the episode never picks up on that story again. But I'll just believe everything worked out for him.
  • The episode barely touches on how we currently live in a culture where people believe the number of followers they have on social media is how many friends they have. That's what Leia believes. She has 13,000 followers. That's significant. But it's also meaningless when it comes to telling her how many friends she really has.
  • Near the end, Valerie tells Alex good luck at work. She is referring to home-schooling. But it seems like he takes it as a motivator to get back to the company that he started just as they are preparing to kick him out. That seems like a fun and interesting story for the season.
  • Two episodes into the season and we haven't gotten any update on how Dawn and Charles are doing as newlyweds. It probably won't be long until they appear again to complicate their children's lives though.