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Hulu’s ‘Casual’: Comedy In Unhappiness – Contenders Emmys

Deadline logo Deadline 4/10/2017 Damon Wise
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“We know that if we have a script with an upbeat ending,” says Casual’s Tommy Dewey,  “the next week we’ll be really screwed.”

Part of Hulu’s original series slate, the Golden Globe-nominated comedy series offers a refreshingly honest look at family bonds. Created by Zander Lehmann and executive produced by Jason Reitman (with whom Hulu has a first-look deal), Casual stars Michaela Watkins as Valerie, a recently divorced woman navigating her new life with her brother Alex (Dewey) and teenage daughter Laura (Tara Lynn Barr). Season 3 — which has a 13-episode order from Hulu and premieres May 23 — sees Jamie Chung joining the cast as Valerie’s new roomie/landlord Tina, a character described as “a pretty, debt-free, part-time freelance artist whose parents bought her a house”.

Lehmann feels that with Season 3, the show will be getting into its stride and is pleased with its evolution. “The more you do them, the more you figure out exactly where you best fit,” he told the crowd at Deadline’s The Contenders Emmys event. “Our show has elements of comedy and drama, which means you’re walking a line. There are some episodes that are going to be more comedic, some more dramatic. I think after a season’s worth you’ll hopefully love these characters a little more, so you can do more drama, do more interesting storytelling. So yeah, I think it’s evolved, and I think Season 3 is evolving too. You don’t want to do the same thing over and over — I feel like that’s the best way to make your audience tune in to one of those other 500 shows out there.”

Part of the show’s appeal, noted Watkins, is that it doesn’t sugarcoat the human experience. “[These characters] are extremely flawed and very dysfunctional and co-dependent and unmoored,” she said. “They have a hole that can’t be filled, but they try — with lots of things, people. But I think it’s relate-able. Zander said this really amazing thing, he said, ‘This is a show about people who should be happy because they seemingly have everything, but they’re just not.’ I think that is very relate-able. I think we all know that we should be grateful for all the wonderful things we have in this life, but sometimes there’s a chasm – just a dark pit. Because sometimes you don’t know how to access happiness.”

Tara Lynn Barr, who plays Valerie’s daughter Laura, agreed with this assessment, saying, “I relate to this girl, who’s grown up in Los Angeles, and she’s got very progressive parents — she’s wise beyond her years. So there’s maybe a mental maturity but not an emotional maturity.” She laughed. “I’m a woman-child, is what I’m trying to say. So I relate to these characters by having it all together on the surface.” For Dewey, the desire to stay clear of the abyss is an essential part of these characters’ make-up. “With Alex,” he said, “he’s got this arsenal of defense mechanisms, a lot of tools at his disposal to keep from going to the dark place. He uses cynicism to deflect and keep the demons at bay.”

With Season 3, will these “unmoored” characters finally get what they’re looking for? Probably not. Says Lehmann, “[Isn’t] the show essentially over when they find true happiness, or sustained happiness? The drama and the tension are what keep you coming back — the striving and the struggling to find the thing. Do any of us find true happiness that lasts forever? No, we have it in moments and have good days and bad days. Wherever we end up [with the show], it’ll be bittersweet, I imagine. There’ll be some things wrapped up and some things that will never be answered.”

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