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TV Review: ‘Casual’

With:
Michaela Watkins, Tommy Dewey, Tara Lynne Barr, Frances Conroy

Edgy doesn’t equal interesting in “Casual,” a Hulu series that hews close to pay-TV territory in terms of language and sex, but winds up feeling like a racier rehash of the short-lived Fox comedy “Ben and Kate.” Both shows feature the tight relationship between a cohabitating brother and sister, the latter with a daughter — although here, she’s less adorable tyke and more sexually active 16-year-old smarty-pants. Directed by Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”), and written by Zander Lehmann, the show posts an indie-film sensibility, yes, but is a little too casual about delivering laughs or plot.

Part of the problem, frankly, is that the show’s male protagonist, Alex (Tommy Dewey), feels like another permutation on a character we’ve seen, oh, 20 or 30 times before. He’s a code-writing Peter Pan, one who’s good-looking enough to bed plenty of attractive women but who resists commitment as if it were plague — or worse, a computer virus. After a woman spends the night, rather than, say, take her home, he simply says, “I got her an Uber.”

Alex’s cavalier attitude stands in stark contrast to his tightly wound, newly divorced older sister, Valerie (Michaela Watkins), whose daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr) meets practically everything mom says with rolled eyes. Laura is shown having sex in the hot tub with her boyfriend in the early going, which would be creepier if the actress playing her looked even close to being 16.

With her ex-husband having found a younger woman, Valerie feels compelled to start dating again. But she’s so apprehensive about the process that Alex schedules his own online date at the same restaurant, allowing the two to excuse themselves and compare notes, mid-meal. In a later episode, Valerie grudgingly agrees to a girls night with a group of twentysomethings, and winds up catching the eye of a young if predictably chiseled bartender.

There are, admittedly, some funny lines (Valerie laments about a guy, “His favorite movie is ‘Underworld’ ”), and a bittersweet quality throughout that approximates some of Reitman’s films. Best known for comedy, Watkins delivers a performance that exhibits plenty of sadness, with the occasional bout of unexpected exhilaration, over her general state. “Six Feet Under’s” Frances Conroy also shows up later as Alex and Valerie’s mother.

Still, the series just isn’t distinctive enough to separate itself from the pack, from the casting to the premise, in the way something like Hulu’s “Difficult People” did. So while some might find enough here to stick with it through the 10-episode season, with so many other players aggressively tackling the premium-style genre, “Casual” feels a lot more like a one-night stand than anything that warrants a long-term commitment.

Popular on Variety

TV Review: 'Casual'

(Series; Hulu, Wed. Oct. 7)

Production: Produced by Right of Way Films in association with Lionsgate.

Crew: Executive producers, Jason Reitman, Zander Lehmann, Helen Estabrook, Liz Tigelaar; co-executive producer, Halsted Sullivan; supervising producer, Sheila Callaghan; producer, Kent Zbornak; director, Jason Reitman; writer, Zander Lehmann; camera, John Guleserian; production designer, Joseph P. Lucky; editor, Dana E. Glauberman; music, Mateo Messina; casting, John Papsidera. 30 MIN.

Cast: Michaela Watkins, Tommy Dewey, Tara Lynne Barr, Frances Conroy

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