Welcome back to my reviews and recaps of “Casual.” To catch up on previous coverage, click here.
Immediately winning points for it’s creative utilization of Cyndi Lauper, the second episode of season two of Casual hits all the right notes after it’s strong start. But first it needs to relinquish all of the progress Alex had made in the premiere, in a clever opening sequence of him throwing away all of his health food products in favor of making waffles. However, keeping in trend with what we know of him as a character, he isn’t happy unless he’s given himself a task to help procrastinate from his own work and this weeks target is Laura. Having picked up the responsibility of homeschooling his niece seems to thrill him more than it does her as he’s planned out an intense and length study schedule that includes everything from math to the evolution of post punk rock.
Alex spends the entire episode dragging a tiresomely bored Laura around with him, culminating in a trivia night that I thought looked like a blast and I couldn’t help but find Laura’s apathy irksome. Sure, Alex is using her to distract himself from his own issues, but you could do worse than sneaking into a bar for a trivia night with supplied beer.
Val meanwhile spends the episode trying to convince herself as well as Alex and Laura that she does in fact have friends after being worried that home school meant Laura wouldn’t have the “authentic” teenage experience (lucky her).
I don’t often sympathize with Val as her issues so often tend to be ones of her own making. Even more infrequently do I relate to her (and I can say the same about Alex and Laura). However, few moments in television have had me nodding along in agreement as fervently as when Val critiqued a woman for how she called herself a mother and, in the process, realized I am, perhaps, more judgmental that I may have originally hoped. Her ex makes a valid point after while Val is stewing in her own frustration; just because Val is right and the other woman was wrong doesn’t mean that she needs to be the one to point it out.
Sometimes you just have to allow people to have their moments, whether you find them oblivious or absurd.
What Casual and Michaela Watkins do so wonderfully in the scene is bring a sense of sobering reality. I get Val’s frustration in the situation she has found herself in and we sense how uncomfortable she’s become as she holds tighter to her drink and slouches inwards at the table. The birthday party she finds herself in, an organized event opposed to the just getting drinks she’d thought it was going to be is a nightmarish situation (to this writer at least).
And how many of us can relate to the idea of finding and or reuniting with friends? It’s bizarre how after college (and even high-school) we begin to find it easier to drop friends than to make new ones (though I am all for trimming the fat so to speak when it comes to people who do more harm than good in your life). Despite shedding that pesky teenage angst there’s a greater social awkwardness when we aren’t put into situations where people have established groups and we’re not in an environment that bolsters the notions of building new relationships. Watkins is excellent in this scene, completely conveying her insecurity while fighting off her bristling contempt for the other people at that birthday table.
It’s interesting to note the different paths Casual has set it’s siblings on. Val is looking outward for friendship and support as Alex continues to look inwards, however oblivious to his own actions. As Laura tells Val, Alex has never left her and Val is both visually bothered and pleased by this fact. At the end of the episode Alex has made peace with not getting to involve himself in Laura’s education as thoroughly as he’d wanted and that he might just have to confront the issue with someone wanting to buy his portion of his company. Val meanwhile has made a tentative acquaintance with a new co-worker and by the time the episode ends it’s hard to not want these two to gain some happiness in their lives despite their best attempts at self-sabotage.