The best comedy of the fall TV season can't be found on one of the broadcast networks, or even on cable. Rather, Casualcomes to us courtesy of Hulu - and, as is the case with Amazon's Transparent, or Hulu's other flagship comedy, the revived Mindy Project, the show is benefiting greatly from being able to reach an audience outside the traditional landscape of TV. And it couldn't have landed at a better time, in the middle of a fall season that's been disappointing, to say the least, especially where comedies are concerned.
Casual, which premiered on Oct. 7 and has already been renewed for a second season, follows siblings Alex (Tommy Dewey) and Valerie (Michaela Watkins) - he, a playboy who created an OkCupid-like dating app; she, a recently divorced mom whose worst nightmare is re-entering the dating pool, online or otherwise. The 10-episode first season begins just after Valerie and her teenage daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr) move in with Alex after the split.
Created by Zander Lehmann and executive-produced by director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air), Casual offers a more realistic depiction of modern dating than any other show out there, relying on an "it's funny because it's true" brand of humor - even when the truth hurts or is, at best, cringe-worthy. The show lays bare the harsh, horrific realities of modern dating (waxing, d--- pics, the unspoken rules of texting) through plot lines as hilarious as they are relatable.
"There are so many options now, I feel like there's always a feeling that there's someone else that could be right around the corner that might be even better than the person you're with. And I think that makes a lot of people disaffected," Lehmann tells TVGuide.com.
But Casual has heart too, especially in relation to Val. Watkins, a veteran of Saturday Night Live and broadcast sitcoms, effortlessly slings Lehmann's one-liners, but her best work is in the scenes in which Valerie's vulnerability is on full display. In a lot of ways, the dating scene for a woman in her 40s is no laughing matter. At the same time, though we do eventually learn that Alex wants something deeper than a different one-night stand every night, Lehmann throws in a couple of twists that save the character from turning into a clichéd cad.
"I feel at times an existential loneliness that I think a lot of people do, and I try to put that in the Alex character especially - someone who can have sex and have relationships, but they end up feeling sort of empty in the end and sort of hollow," Lehmann notes. "Certainly I think we've all felt that on some level."
As its name implies, much of Casual is about sex - and there's plenty of it. Nothing is taboo in the conversations between Alex and Val - almost to an uncomfortable degree - and bodies of varying shapes and sizes are consistently on display (an episode in which Alex unwittingly fat-shames his latest partner packs a punch). Lehmann says he and Reitman never considered pitching the show to a major network, which is understandable because, much like Transparent, Casual makes network sitcoms seem ... well, false. Though the sex scenes and R-rated language are plentiful, it doesn't feel gratuitous, but rather like an accurate portrayal of how people speak, and screw.
"It was pitched to one or two cable companies. We went to Showtime with it and we went to the streaming networks," Lehmann says. "I had the scripts and Jason was going to direct them, and those scripts were not appropriate for network television, and Jason was not going to censor himself to make a network show. ... We were super-lucky that Hulu wanted to make our version of it. I'm sure there's a version of this show that is a network show that has a laugh track and the sort of zany adventures, but it was great they let us go down our path and didn't force us into that one."
In one way, however, Casual feels like a traditional show. Rather than mimicking the binge models of Amazon and Netflix, Hulu rolls out its comedies in weekly installments. (Of course, if you're late to the game, binging is also an option.) In the case of Casual, a new episode premieres each Wednesday, and the pacing works well. There aren't big cliff-hangers at the end of each episode, and though the characters are so well-defined that they stick with you, checking in with them once a week feels like the right frequency, especially when the show aims to get at the monotonous misadventures of singledom.
Casual's humor may hit too close to home for some viewers, but amid so many comedies that are more suited to background viewing, it's refreshing to find one that leaves you wanting to commit.