‘Casual’: Smooth, Mellow, Chill, Z-z-z-z…

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·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
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There’s a lot to be said for a TV series taking its time to unfurl its pleasures at a leisurely pace. Well, in the case of Casual, not a lot to be said — garrulousness would be antithetical to the aesthetic of this series, whose second season begins streaming on Hulu on Tuesday. Casual — the let’s-call-it-a-sitcom starring Michaela Watkins as a single-mom therapist — proceeds from a place of diffidence, of setting up the mildest of jokes and seeing how softly the show can make them land.

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Hulu is releasing the first two episodes of the new season on Tuesday (weekly episodes will follow), and they establish a couple of storylines: Watkins’ Val, feeling lonely despite the fact that she lives with her daughter, Laura (Tara Lynne Barr), and her smart-alecky brother, Alex (Tommy Dewey), is searching for a friend. Laura, at 16, is trying to figure out what Los Angeles school she wants to attend — an opportunity for Casual to spoof both home-schooling and the sort of Los Angeles independent, parent-formed schools that HBO’s tragically canceled Togetherness had such witty fun with.

As for Alex, well, he’s just chugging along, a 21st-century equivalent of the R. Crumb “Keep on Truckin’” cartoon, without much purpose other than to provide wisecracks and smirks. Dewey does everything possible with the character, but Alex as written cannot avoid being a condescending drip.

It helps a lot when Katie Aselton (from The League and so good as a mean mom in… Togetherness!) shows up at the end of the second episode as a potential friend for Val. And the proceedings get downright near-perky for a few brief moments Vincent Kartheiser pops up briefly in the third in a kind of contemporary-Mad Men setting.

Once again, Jason Reitman is directing the episodes, whose pacing and tone are either nicely smooth or gradually narcotic, depending on how engaged you are by mild jokes about “experimental goat cheese” and the whimsical notion of Laura taking a pass-fail course on bow-hunting.

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If you’ve guessed by now that Casual is a mite too casual for me, you’re correct. Which is not to say I’m not fond of Watkins’ carefully shaded performance, and occasionally charmed by the show’s mellow vibe. On the other hand, it took me two hours to get through the second half-hour because the vibe was so mellow, my mind kept wandering, and I would pause the show to read a New Yorker short story or rip open a bag of spinach kale chips I now can’t really imagine eating. The preceding sentence could be the entire plot of a future Casual episode.

Casual is streaming now on Hulu.