In its fourth and final season, Hulu’s Casual, a not unintentionally casual viewing experience about people navigating the world of modern romantic relationships, deftly navigates what could have been a thorny bit of narrative craftiness by immediately showing the audience the value in its — for lack of a better term — yadda yadda-ing several years worth of storylines. That’s right, the series employs the tricky time jump in order to move well beyond the season 3 finale and prepare its characters, Alex (Tommy Dewey), Valerie (Michaela Watkins), Laura (Tara Lynne Barr), and Leon (Nyasha Hatendi) for the big narrative push toward the end.
That end comes faster in the final season, due in part to the fact there are only eight episodes this time around and because Hulu has made all episodes available on the same day, turning the final season into a binge watch. And yet, despite so many of the show’s components being altered in order to facilitate the needs of a final season as well as the platform the show happens to be streamed from, Casual manages to avoid the problems normally associated with such things and come away with a strong, satisfying conclusion to a delightful series.
That Casual would save some of its best for last is not much of a surprise. The series, created and executive produced by Zander Lehmann, with Jason Reitman onboard as producer (and sometimes director), and executive producers Liz Tigelaar and Helen Estabrook, has consistently improved with each season. In terms of the ever-changing television ecosystem, Casual feels almost old fashioned in a way. A slightly comedic look at the trials and tribulations of upper-middle class Los Angelenos trying (and mostly failing) to make meaningful, lasting emotional connections, the show operates in some of the same dramatic and comedic territory as, say, Togetherness or Divorce, though its less twee than the first and not anywhere near as caustic as the second. What set Casual apart, then, was the charming diminutiveness of its scope and the pronounced lack of ease with which all three of its main characters handled the prospect of actually connecting with another human being on a level that was both true and emotionally fulfilling.
In its final season, the show steers Alex, Valerie, and Laura into and away from such narrative tendencies in interesting ways. The most obvious is also the one on which the time jump has had the biggest impact: Alex’s relationship with Rae (Maya Erskine), a former Airbnb guest of his with whom he is now raising a four-year-old daughter, Carrie. The change in Alex is obvious and immediate, and is evidence of the good and not so good that can come from narrative time jumps. On one hand, thrusting the audience into Alex’s life as a man-child turned surprisingly affectionate dad/borderline helicopter parent deprives viewers of the chance to witness the character’s development as he makes his way through the motions of oncoming parental anxiety and eventually arrives in the place he’s at in the season 4 premiere. That is to say, Alex is pretty comfortable in his role as dad. On the other hand, how badly does the audience need to see that sort of thing again, especially when it’s the road ahead that matters most?
The positives and negatives surrounding Laura’s evolution are much the same; she’s overtly not the Laura who was present at the end of season 3. After spending the past few years abroad, studying cooking and falling in love with a woman named Tathiana (Lorenza Izzo), she’s returned home a reformed emotional maelstrom. That is until a miscommunication with Tathiana about the seriousness of their relationship threatens to send her down a familiar path where she retreats when things don’t go her way. Both Alex and Laura have come so far from where they were when season 3 came to a close Casual has no choice but to use the threat of backsliding as a means of creating a sense of conflict in their respective arcs. For the most part this works, though it does so better for Alex than for Laura, as there is more at stake for him this season with the addition of his daughter and the unresolved feelings he has for Rae.
Perhaps the least affected by the time jump is Valerie. For her, the past four years have brought more ennui than change, a listlessness that pushes her to make a dramatic decision at the beginning of season 4, one that will inform the entirety of the character’s final arc. When compared to the relationship challenges faced by Alex and Laura, Valerie’s impetuous pursuit of opening a wine store is refreshing in that the stakes of this particular endeavor feel out of character for her and the series itself. As such, Valerie’s goals have shifted; she’s better positioned to understand not only the needs of those around her, but her own needs as well, which smartly opens the character up to facilitate change across the board as the season moves toward its finale.
Casual’s final season is all about change, and because it places the audience in the thick of that change from the outset, this eight episode run is better for it. Adjusting to the characters’ new circumstance is half the fun, the other half, of course, is enjoying a glimpse at what the future will bring. Autonomous ride-sharing cars, ubiquitous digital personal assistants, virtual reality dating, the ignominious death of a scandal-ridden politician, and the equally undignified end of a national pastime. Somehow, though, the series keeps from being overwhelmed by all the changes, either to its characters or the world around them, and winds up in delivering an emotionally satisfying end to one of Hulu’s most charming and enjoyable series.
All episodes of Casual season 4 are available to stream on Hulu.