Many a show has attempted to mine the nuances of "modern relationships" -- dating in the age of the internet, casual sex, a rapid redefining of the traditional family -- to make an entertaining TV show. Some succeed -- Aziz Ansari's new Netflix series "Master of None" is an example of one that gets a lot right, while still being funny -- others devolve into clichéd, preachy cautionary tales about "kids these days." Hulu's brilliant "Casual," which released its Season 1 finale Wednesday and has been renewed by a Hulu for a Season 2 in 2016, is one of the former variety.
The series, created by Zander Lehman with most episodes directed by executive producer Jason Reitman ("Juno," "Up in the Air") and Fred Savage ("Grinder"), revolves around the unconventional family unit of Valerie (Michaela Watkins), her brother Alex (Tommy Dewey) and her daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr), who all live together in Alex's house post Valerie's divorce. Alex is the cynical creator of a blowing-up dating site and encourages his sister to pursue causal sex as self medication for the pain of her divorce, while Laura comes into her own sexuality the way a 16-year old girl might if her mother was more concerned with being her best friend than a parent. Later, the reason for the trio's dysfunction is revealed when Valerie and Alex's flake parents are introduced and the show dives into some fascinating territory concerning the validity of open relationships and the value of modern marriage.
The series is darkly funny throughout and does well to remember that technology merely gives its characters more opportunities to show off the neuroses they already have -- it is not their cause, as it might be in lesser shows. Plus, Michaela Watkins gives an Emmy-caliber performance best watched via binge.
Actress Tara Lynne Barr, who also stars in NBC's Charles Manson drama "Aquarius," which too has been picked up for a second season, spoke with International Business Times to discuss getting the role of Laura, the finale's emotional cliffhanger, and what lies ahead in Season 2 of "Casual."
Read the full interview below:
International Business Times: How did you get involved with “Casual”?
Barr: I auditioned, like an actor. I’m still in that place where I am auditioning for things. I saw who was attached and that made me excited. Then, I read the script and that made me even more excited. I went in to read for [executive producer] Jason Reitman and the casting director. I thought I did a good job and I guess they thought I did a good job too. I got the part and we started shooting.
It was super simple. I wish I had a sexier story!
IBTimes: You are a Nickelodeon vet (“Drake & Josh, “Zoey 101”) and this show deals with another teen character at the same point in life as many of the characters in those shows, but this is obviously a much more mature and different take. Were you looking for projects with more substance?
Barr: I don’t think it was something that I was actively seeking out, but the last few years I have been, just with my age, seeking out roles that I find more challenging or to be unique or unconventional. It has been a bit of a transition and this role in “Casual” has been eye opening in terms of how good roles can challenge you as an actor and make the job much more rewarding.
IBTimes: Were you a fan of Jason Reitman’s work coming into the show?
Barr: I’ve probably said it 10,000 times and he’s probably sick of hearing it, but I am such a huge fan of his work. I remember going into the audition and I don’t get star struck very easily -- I usually reserve that for people who I actually respect and not just for who is on the cover of the tabloids -- but that was a big one for me. I saw Aaron Sorkin at a party two weeks ago and that was another moment where I was like “Holy f---, that’s Aaron Sorkin! I could touch Aaron Sorkin right now if I wanted to!” I thought that would have been inappropriate at an audition, though. I was really excited to be seen by [Jason] though and it was the most amazing, remarkable miracle to get cast in the show.
That sounds a little hyperbolic doesn’t it? Amazing, remarkable miracle -- You should take out one of those adjectives so I don’t sound like such a psychopath.
IBTimes: Well, speaking of sounding like a psychopath. Every character on “Casual,” especially Valerie, is constantly worried about if they are a bad person or not, if they are a bad mother or not, and if they will ever find “normal” love and happiness. However, the happiest, healthiest characters on the show seem to be the ones that reject our established conceptions about love, marriage, and sex. What would you say is the show’s take on modern relationships?
Barr: One of the things that I really love about the show is that it did raise those questions about dating in the internet age and marriage and open relationships, but it did not necessarily claim to answer the questions that it raised. I actually appreciated that because you could easily veer into some preachy territory with that. I really like that Zander Lehmann wrote the show as if everyone has asked these questions before and we are just going along for the ride with these characters as they try to navigate the super murky waters of dating in the internet age and not necessarily needing to arrive at an answer.
I also think by the end of the season these characters realize that there are no answers. These notions that they had at the beginning of the season -- Alex thinking sleeping around is the high life, Valerie thinking you have to truly connect with someone on a deep, long term level to have a meaningful relationship, and Laura thinking she doesn’t need her mother in her life -- are all wrong. They are sitting in that pew [in the last scene of the finale] watching the wedding just sort of sitting in their confusion.
IBTimes: Now that you mention it, there’s an interesting moment in the last scene. Laura joins hands with her mother and Valerie goes to put her hand on Alex’s, but then decides not to instead. What did you make of that last beat?
Barr: Well, what I took from that is that [the three character] still have a ways to go in their relationship. This would really be a question for Michaela because I could go on about what Laura is feeling taking her mother’s hand, but in terms of Valerie and Alex, you could write a novel about it. It is so loaded with confusion and affection and love, but not wanting to overstep any boundaries. It was so charged, even just sitting there. I thought it was a beautiful moment.
IBTimes: Well where is Laura, in terms of her relationship with her mother, at the end of the season? She comes back into the fold defending her mother against Emmy, but it seems like there is a lot they need to talk about still.
Barr: I don’t think I could go as far as to say that they are even “ok” at that point. There is a lot to be resolved … or not really. I think they need to agree that there is a conversation they need to have or that they both agree to disagree and move passed it. They are always going to have love and affection for each other because Laura was bearing witness to her mother’s miniature breakdown during her divorce and she has sympathy for her. She thinks her mother’s self-exploration is adorable until it starts affecting things in her own life. Then, when she sees it affect Alex’s relationships she turns on her mother. At the end, though, I think she sees her mother to be just as confused and f----- up as the rest of us and she decides not to question everything her mother has done. She is just silently telling her it’s ok.
Watch the trailer for "Casual" below:
IBTimes: Michaela’s performance in the show is really impressive. Are you ever able to step back and appreciate that on set as a fan?
Barr: Yes I am and I tell her -- and people around her -- so often that I love her and that she is brilliant. People will come up to me and say, “Hey, great job on the show. I love the show,” and I’ll say, “Thanks, but Michaela Watkins, though, right?” What is she -- she’s queen. She’s “bae.” She’s so talented and I’m so glad she has the role.
IBTimes: It is also an amazing thing to see a middle-aged, divorced, highly sexually active woman as the lead character on a TV show, but with it always being complex and never getting exploitative. The same could be said for how the show handles Laura. It would be easy to have a 16-year old coming to terms with her sexuality end up as just teen sex-comedy fodder, but the show never lets it be that.
Barr: Yes! I’m so glad you brought that up, because oddly enough Michaela and I have had conversations about this as well. Neither Michaela nor I look like “gym rats” and yet we are on television having sex. There is a sense in TV or film now that you have to look a certain way or be a certain weight or be a certain color to have sex on screen. “Girls” was one of the first shows that, we both agreed, decided to be super frank about sex and also not necessarily sexualize sex, just present it as something we all do. You don’t have to look like a Victoria’s Secret model to have sex.
When it comes to Laura I really appreciated it because I have found that when I read roles for teenage girls it tends to be either black or white. She is either the virginal, doe-eyed girl next door or she is the town bicycle. It’s very rare to read a role where a teenage girl’s sexuality is middle of the road and natural like in real life. The girls I went to school with had sex lives similar to Laura’s. That doesn’t mean they were picking up dudes at an art show, but it was no big deal. They were safe about it. They did not have some little girl complex and it wasn’t some sultry thing either. I think that is where most human beings are in general. It’s nice to depict a teenage girl who owns her sexuality. While I was on the set shooting those scenes it was uncomfortable, but it never felt exploitative or unnecessary.
IBTimes: The show captures intimacy very well too and the idea that even casual sex is full of emotional ramifications.
Barr: Yeah, I like that the title is actually a misnomer. Is there really any casual, intimate experiences? Can you really write off any of those experiences? Is there really such a thing as "Casual"?
IBTimes: Look at Leon (Nyasha Hatendi)! Valerie did not even have sex with him and he is still showing up in her life.
IBTimes: So what is next for Laura and the show in Season 2?
Barr: We start shooting early next year, which I’m thrilled about of course. When it comes to the future of Valerie, Laura and Alex, I think Zander was smart to end the season how he did, which was like an emotional cliffhanger. There was no big network television explosion where you don’t know if the lead characters are dead or alive. It was really quiet and intimate, but the emotional stakes were really high. What I hope happens in Season 2 -- I’ve been trying to get answers out of Zander, but he won’t budge -- is that Laura gets the Alex treatment and gets to have a “Sex and the City”-style string of guys each episode.
IBTimes: What about Laura’s photography teacher, Michael Carr (Patrick Heusinger) -- whom Laura was crushing on until she discovered her mother was already sleeping with him. We have not seen Laura confront him yet. What is going to happen there?
Barr: That is unfinished business. As Laura, I would like to go full “Kill Bill” on Michael. As Tara, I have a little more sympathy for his problems. I do hope he makes another appearance and I know Leon, who my mom is obsessed with, will be making plenty more appearances.
I just hope we don’t f--- up too much next season. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said, “Hey, you are great on the show, but you are such a little a------ though.” So, I immediately act all nice to redeem myself for Laura’s irresponsible actions.
IBTimes: That just means you are playing the perfect teenager.
Barr: Well, thank you. I’m glad that I’m convincing!
Season 1 of "Casual" is available now on Hulu. Season 2 will premiere in 2016.