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'Casual' Hides Romance With Cynicism And Subtlety

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'Casual' Hides Romance With Cynicism And Subtlety

Television

'Casual' Hides Romance With Cynicism And Subtlety

'Casual' Hides Romance With Cynicism And Subtlety

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/461409289/461409290" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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As part of our year-end look at the "Ones That Got Away in 2015" series, NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans reviews Hulu's Casual, a comedy about the modern search for connection.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's been said that this is a golden age of television with hundreds of shows broadcast and streamed this year. Even NPR's TV critic has struggled to keep up. So we gave Eric Deggans one last chance to tell us about the program that got away from him in 2015, and he chose the romantic comedy - or perhaps the anti-romantic comedy - called "Casual."

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: I admit I'm a little cynical about TV shows that are cynical about love and romance. That's because such shows are usually terrible, filled with smart-alecky know-it-alls who hide their pain with empty sarcasm. So I took my time checking out Hulu's "Casual." It's a comedy featuring Michaela Watkins as Valerie, a 39-year-old therapist who grabbed her teen daughter during a divorce and moved in with her younger brother, Alex. For a dose of cynicism, check out Valerie and Alex comparing notes while on dates with different people at the same time in the same restaurant.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CASUAL")

MICHAELA WATKINS: (As Valerie) How's yours going?

TOMMY DEWEY: (As Alex) She's a fitness freak. I hate her.

WATKINS: (As Valerie) You should go.

DEWEY: (As Alex) I think I'm going to try to take her home.

WATKINS: (As Valerie) Why?

DEWEY: (As Alex) Well, the sex will suck and she won't call, and then it'll be on her for not putting in more effort.

DEGGANS: And Alex runs the website that picked out both their dates. "Casual" tells a story of three family members on different romantic journeys with stories that often intertwine. It sounds cliched, but there are two things that save "Casual" from being yet another exercise in smutty jokes about Tinder. First, "Casual" is funny. Here, Alex asks about the romantic history of a guy who Valerie just had a one night stand with named Leon.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CASUAL")

NYASHA HATENDI: (As Leon) Dated for three years, engaged for another. A month before the wedding, I found tapes.

DEWEY: (As Alex) Tapes? Like, VHS?

HATENDI: (As Leon) A collection of all the men and women she'd ever been with, up to and including the time that we were together.

DEWEY: (As Alex) Who even has a VCR?

HATENDI: (As Leon) She does.

DEGGANS: It takes a while, but "Casual" slowly reveals unique characters searching for connection when the rhythms of modern life often alienate us. Valerie earns a living counseling others but was blindsided by her divorce and struggles to date. Alex is a dating website designer who hides his loneliness with an offhand attitude, talking casually with Valerie's teenage daughter about his suicide attempt.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CASUAL")

TARA LYNNE BARR: (As Laura) You tried to kill yourself, didn't you?

DEWEY: (As Alex) Debatable.

BARR: (As Laura) My mom said you jumped off your deck.

DEWEY: (As Alex) I did, but it was more exploratory than anything. I only broke my leg.

BARR: (As Laura) If you were serious you would've used a gun.

DEWEY: (As Alex) Exactly.

DEGGANS: In these moments, "Casual" offers a surprisingly subtle portrait of people searching for fulfillment, but they're looking in a fictional world where the promise of connection is rarely matched by the reality. I'm Eric Deggans.

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