Moving on and making friends is hard, and both only get harder with age. That dilemma is at the heart of the new season of “Casual.”
Season 2 of the Golden Globe-nominated Hulu comedy explores the challenges of reaching out and making friends at an older age. Tara Lynne Barr, 22, one of the show’s stars, said for her character, Laura, that meant trying to move past the scandalous events of Season 1 and learning to let herself be more vulnerable.
“The first season of any show is tricky in that you have the task of developing the characters and either endearing them to the audience or not. This season was easier in a sense because our characters were already established, but it was harder in that they had to go out and deal with real-world problems,” Barr said in an interview. “One of the most notable differences is that in this season we are going out into the world and actively trying to make friends and widen the scope of our lives beyond this little threesome of Valerie, Alex and Laura.”
The trio made up of Valerie, her brother Alex and her daughter, Laura, went through a lot in Season 1. Valerie, played by “Saturday Night Live” veteran Michaela Watkins, rebounded from a painful divorce by sleeping with Laura’s teacher crush (Patrick Heusinger) and then Alex’s polyamorous girlfriend (Eliza Coupe). Alex (Tommy Dewey), who had been struggling to let his walls down in the new relationship, took his sister’s betrayal hard. Laura, who had sent a sex tape to the aforementioned teacher in an attempt to prove her womanhood, took her mother’s transgressions even harder.
That season, which used all of that scandal and promiscuity to cleverly dissect sex in the modern dating world, earned “Casual” a Golden Globe nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series, the first such nomination for Hulu. The streaming world has up to this point been dominated by Netflix, which has won awards for “Orange Is the New Black” and “House of Cards,” and Amazon, which has an awards juggernaut in “Transparent.” With “Casual” and this year’s acclaimed “The Path,” Hulu is beginning to carve out a spot as an equal to its streaming rivals in prestige content.
When the new season of “Casual” premieres Tuesday, Laura has made up her mind that she will not be going back to the private school where she now feels like a pariah thanks to the fallout from the sex tape incident. Instead, Laura spends the early episodes of Season 2 surveying other options, including a frightening peek at public school life — “There are metal detectors and drug dogs,” Alex warns her — and homeschooling with Alex, before opting to try out a homeschool co-op with a few other kids and a group of way too progressive parents. Despite the eccentric environment, Laura finds the unexpected: some acceptance and self-discovery.
“I think if she already had an inability to really put herself out there in the first season, in this season it has been exacerbated,” Barr explained. “She meets these people who force her to confront the misconceptions that she has always had with intimacy and sex. She grew up thinking that intimacy and sex were two entirely different things. She discovers that that is not the case.”
The focus of Laura’s self-exploration in the early going of the season is a new friend, Aubrey (Dylan Gelula), whom Laura meets when Aubrey chastises her for “not saying anything real” in her introduction to the other students in the homeschool co-op. Soon the two hit it off, bonding over eye rolls at the PC culture the co-op imposes on them — in one scene they harass a teacher over “triggers” in a novel the class is reading — and staying out late to get high and shoot down clumsy boys looking for easy action.
“Laura is such a smart girl and she really does have a sense of humor far beyond her years. It’s great in some aspects, but it has also alienated her in some ways because her interests and sensibility is not quite aligned with most people her age,” Barr said. “I think she finds a kindred spirit in Aubrey. They are sharing this weird homeschool experience together and things are not perfect at the co-op, but they really do connect on a deeper level. Aubrey is also really smart and intuitive to the point where she sees right through her, and Laura is intimidated by it, but also intrigued by it. A lot of it is unspoken, but I think their relationship is fascinating and very true to life.”
Laura’s mom and uncle are also trying to expand their social circles. Valerie is desperate to find an outlet other than dating to help move on from her divorce. Her Instagram-aided attempts to connect with friends old and new reveal how plutonic connections are often just as fraught with awkwardness and heartbreak as their romantic counterparts. Meanwhile, Alex struggles to put his womanizing coping mechanisms behind him as a shakeup with his online dating website forces him to confront some old demons and interact with new faces.
As was the case in the first season, the trio’s own friendship remains the cornerstone of the series and their primary source of, admittedly dysfunctional, support. Despite Laura’s young age, the 17-year-old character is in many scenes the emotional equal of her mother and uncle.
“[Laura is] on the same level as her mom and uncle,” Barr said. “She can have moments where she is totally a kid again and she can have moments where her mom is complaining about a bad date and Laura is able to provide comfort.”
The strength of “Casual” is the way it finds the nuance in unconventional relationships. In the first season, the show used that perspective to take on sex. As the show pivots toward friendships, it doesn’t appear to be at a loss for material.