The downside to this Golden Age of TV is that almost every television channel, streaming service, and website that has even a tangential connection to the film industry produces original, scripted content, and the majority of those series are quite good. In fact, the vast quantity of quality shows has caused the more cynical, DVR-half-empty viewers to dub this “Peak TV,” as if the television market is a bubble on the verge of bursting. But if Casual, which just completed its freshman season, is a omen of television to come, the Golden Age still has many years left of quality programming to come.
Casual, created by Zander Lehmann and produced by Jason Reitman, centers on newly-divorced Valerie, her brother, and her sixteen-year-old daughter, all living in the same house and all pursuing “casual” relationships. Each character has their own (plural) issues, and each is played to perfection by an amazing cast. Michaela Watkins (Enlightened, They Came Together) as Valerie is great as usual, and relative newcomers Tommy Dewey (as brother Alex) and Tara Lynne Barr (as daughter Laura) equally impress. But the standout talent is creator Zander Lehmann, which is especially notable since Casual is his first produced writing credit. As Reitman put it, “We were just looking for a voice. And that’s what kind of jumped off the page more than anything. When you read a pilot … you’re just getting a taste, so you need to know that his voice is going to translate over the course of years.”
(Please don’t continue reading until you copy, paste, write down, print out that quote. Or as our Director of Development Matt Misetich succinctly said, “Writers: this.”)
What helps Lehmann’s voice standout is that each line is packed with subtext. Subtext is when a character says one thing but hints at numerous other emotions left unsaid. It’s what your high school literature teacher was getting at when she said, “Unpack Lady Macbeth’s line in Act V, Scene 1.” Take this scene from Casual as an example. Lehmann and Dewey crammed in more subtext (resentment, regret, irritation, self-loathing, and many other emotions) into one simple “Oh” than most other shows are able to in an entire half-hour. (The subtext being, “Oh my god, we just sat down, this date is already going terribly, and I hate her.”) That goes for most of Alex’s dialogue: Many lines hint at his depression but barely reveal all the information, particularly his buried emotions. It also helps that the characters, despite being so well-defined, are all broken. Lehmann hardly gets into all their issues in the pilot but leaves enough clues in the dialogue to give each line depth.
To put it simply: If you aren’t watching Casual, you’re missing out on one of the best-written character-driven shows out there today.