+ Recommended – TV-MA, Drama, Comedy
Our favorite family trio is back on the small screen! Season 4 has a smaller episode order, only at a mere 8 episodes, but the main story focus doesn’t warrant 12 or 13 episodes. In addition to a shortened season, Hulu took the liberty of dropping all the episodes at once! But as sad as it is to say, I’m not sure the final season of Casual was necessary at all. There may be light spoilers going forward.
A decent amount of time has passed from the last season. Alex (Tommy Dewey) has grown in maturity and recent life events have forced his opinions to change over time. Laura (Tara Barr) has been MIA for the past couple years and has really found her true self, progressing past her teenage angst and accepting her lively personality. Valerie (Michaela Watkins), still very complacent in her life as a therapist, is starting to realize that life is too short and she may need to reinvigorate her passion, just to thrive. Through each of their stories, we’ve seen them grow into themselves more and more.
When I previously mentioned the fourth season of Casual not being necessary, it almost would have worked better as a feature film. The eight episodes feel very thin on plot, development, and purposeful conflict, as well as a few narrative elements that could have been centered. At the end of last season, we see that Alex and Rae hook up and soon afterwards Rae (Maya Erskine) tells Alex that she is pregnant. This storyline is heavily focused on during the final season but doesn’t get much screen time to successfully unfold; unfortunately, this theme carries the most emotional weight and should have been at the center of storytelling. Alex truly has matured from the first episode way back in 2015.
Laura’s arc focuses on her gypsy personality. Does she stay with her partner after the dance ends? Or does she move on before she can fall out of love? Unsurprisingly, Laura’s portion of the season feels the most irrelevant to progress the plot; her character has always been the main point of conflict for the show, and subsequently the most aggravating. Valerie’s presence hasn’t changed too much from last season, either. She still feels conflicted about how she has raised Laura and if she has failed, like her mother. Valerie worries about how people view her, realizing that she really doesn’t have much of a personality; she has no hobbies and not many passion projects.
One other point to make is that Casual often creates the most compelling characters for single episodes, and sometimes single scenes. Each season carefully mixes drama with comedy and that is no different in the latest season. While not every favorite character returns for the last outing, their presence is felt through the heart of the trio; the craft of shaping the characters from past relationships has never been more profound in any series.
Moving past the characters, the fourth season delivers some emotionally compelling moments. The subtlety of the camera work shifts the focus from the background to the characters. Many of the visuals lend compliments to the emotional complexity of each of our three main protagonists. One of the best episodes of Casual, in my honest opinion, is Season 3’s “99,” in which Alex and Valerie prepare for an unexpected pregnancy in the year 1999. The episode took many visual risks in conveying a story from their past; a thread that continued into the new season, particularly with “Virtual Reality.” The last episode will melt your heart if you’ve watched the show from it’s conception, even though the story progression felt jumbled.
One thing is certain: we are all going to be looking for “casual” going forward.