It's hard to consider Casual's second season, which ends on Hulu Aug. 23, without comparing it to the first season. So much of that first year's energy came directly from the situation – an L.A. mother in the thick of divorce moves into her brother's house – leading into a re-examination of boundaries, character, and relationships taking place at the same time we experienced them as viewers.
While the shocking events preceding seemed to provide a new impetus for season 2 (Valerie's indiscretion with her brother's girlfriend, among others), the mechanics of the show demanded most of the fallout take place off the explicit radar: Alex resents his sister Valerie enough to try and take possession of his life; Valerie resents this unspoken rejection of their codependency, resulting in a new shared pattern that is the same as the old one, and so on.
While this structure led to a lot of what we loved in the first year, and certainly kept up or exceeded its quality on a scene-by-scene level, it also proved the chemistry between the three leads that drives the show. Take that away, and we're left with three separate shows that rarely interconnect. Certainly an ambitious design, one that creates no lack of sympathy for what's missing for each of them, but on their own none of the three shows – not even the most successful, Valerie's poignant relationship with Jack (the always-perfect Kyle Bornheimer) – are what season 1 lovers might have realized they were craving.
Crystalline moments of emotion and introspection, the beautiful voice and brilliant tone of the show, all these are still there. But playing through three fully grown storylines over the course of 13 half-hours – compared to The Mindy Project, which can barely manage to maintain a single thought from week to week – often leads to that feeling of "reading the outline" you get sometimes with Showtime shows: This is what happens this week, because it's what happens. Little connective tissue between episodes and vastly less between plots.
It's still one of the best shows around, and certainly one of the best casts – Michaela Watkins' performance as Valerie, in particular, is reliably groundbreaking – but we hope season 3, and these final hours, offer something beyond a "logically this happens" pro forma result.
Next week, a similar experiment returns when You're the Worst begins its third season on FXX, Aug. 31. While the sophomore season of that show had much the same "new scenario" mandate – in this case, the now-committed relationship between our two trainwreck leads – it responded to this overarching theme with a strikingly beautiful, hard-to-watch exploration of mental illness. Specifically, the tremendously gifted Aya Cash's Gretchen happened to fall in a clinical-depression hole at the most inconvenient time imaginable, sending the whole setup sideways in a fashion that was always as uncomfortable as it was moving.
And while the rest of the characters can be a mixed bag, decent moves were made to humanize the more outré players from season 1, making the story an overall four-part symphony on how exactly we become human once we've rediscovered the possibility. The last finale set up several situations that may or may not come into play when the show returns – varied new relationships and living situations, etc. – and the show will doubtlessly continue playing into its, and creator Stephen Falk's, greatest strengths.
Dolloping always just the necessary, measured compassion into its existential acid bath to transform its nasty humor into something entirely new. Not only witty, and surprisingly gentle, but more importantly, never failing to impart at least a little wisdom on the subject of survival.
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