[This interview contains spoilers for the series finale of Casual.]
Hulu is currently streaming the final eight episodes of Casual, and in addition to delivering plenty of emotionally satisfying moments, the season also takes its characters into the near future. While the idea of a time jump isn’t too foreign to most television watchers, Casual takes it a step further by actually making a number of predictions about where technology and politics may be in four years’ time. Mostly the series has fun with the idea of autonomous cars, virtual reality dating, and a ubiquitous digital assistant that puts Alexa to shame. But the series also makes two pointed jokes about a certain scandal-plagued former head of the EPA, and the future of the concussion-plagued NFL.
But, as series creator Zander Lehmann pointed out while discussing the fourth and final season of Casual with Screen Rant, there’s more to the time jump than political jokes and predictions about how technology will further encroach on our daily lives. The jump in time allowed the show’s writers’ room a chance to get the story in a place where it could deliver the most emotional bang for the viewers’ (subscription) buck. A lot of that had to do with Alex (Tommy Dewey) stepping confidently into his new role as a father, which would lead him and the series down an unexpected path toward the story’s conclusion.
Read Screen Rant’s interview with Zander Lehmann below:
How close was season 4 to what you had in your head with regard to the series’ run? Had you drawn up a four-season run from the beginning, or were you more open to seeing where things went?
This season definitely feels a little different than some of the others. As far as breaking it out, we had no idea what it was going to be until a couple months before we started writing it. I think every season we went in with kind of a blank slate saying, 'Okay, how many episodes do we have? What are the stories we want to tell? Where should these characters go?' And for this one, because we had eight episodes and we had to tell an ending, it was definitely more challenging.
Writing to an ending was something that we had not done yet, and we wanted to make sure that we had enough time to set up the proper emotional character arcs so that it would feel satisfying. So what we did -and this was the idea of one of our producers - we felt like, by jumping slightly into the future, we would not have to - I don't want to say answer some of the questions that were left in season 3, but we didn't have to spend time answering the things that we thought would be less satisfying. So we didn't want to see, necessarily, Laura starting her journey to go abroad. We didn't want to see Alex dealing with a pregnant Rae in the house. We didn't want to see Valerie left alone. We felt like those would be less fun stories to tell and we wouldn't have enough time to get to what we thought was a satisfying ending.
So we started with this premise: We're jumping into the future, we'll answer some questions, we'll leave somethings unexplained and we'll assume that in the four years that have passed, some of the wounds have been healed, these characters are kind of okay with each other. The break of the season was like any other season except we didn't know what we were building to until really the last couple weeks. We went back and forth on the finale at length. We really wanted to make sure we told it right and told it in a satisfying way.
How did you land on the four-year time jump?
There were a lot of factors. Number one, we felt like it had to be enough time in the future that we could play with some of the fun near-future technological elements and changes of society. Could football really end in four or five years? Probably not. It certainly isn't ending in the next few years, so that was something we wanted to play with. And then there was the idea of virtual reality dating. Is that going to happen in five years? That feels like it could be more likely. And then also, obviously, when you're doing a production based around a four year old there are real practical challenges and we thought that having [Carrie] be a character who was able to speak and able to have a personality was really valuable. We got really lucky in casting. We got this wonderful, sweet child named Lucy who's sort of perfect and easy to work with and a joy, and it really validated our decision to do it four or five years in the future, as opposed to having a baby who couldn't really talk or have a personality.
Tell me about the genesis of the joke regarding Scott Pruitt?
We try not to take a political stance with these things, but we're telling a story in the near future; it has to be comedic and fun and lighthearted. Ultimately, we had a real hard time conceiving of a world in the near future where things have just continued as they are today, where the status quo of whatever is going on in our government has just continued on. And we felt like, 'Okay, we should drop hints about how the political space looks and how the world is.' But the fact that these characters are able to go out and have fun and crack jokes and live their lives without checking Twitter at every minute of the day, I think that shows some positive progress has been made, some people are not doing the things that they are currently doing now. I just think that was sort of a general theme and tone of where the show was beyond just taking cracks at the people who we don't like.
Was that difficult to find the right balance?
The hardest thing is inserting anything political into this space that we're living in because it all gets picked apart and you wonder 'What are they actually saying? What is the intention here?' I think for us a lot of it is just really a vibe of the world that we're trying to build. If you notice it and it takes you out of the story then that's probably not what we're trying to do. If you get a chuckle out of it and you go 'Oh, okay, this is the space that we're playing in, where these things could happen, and we're in the near future and it's not this weird dystopian hellscape, then I can get on board with that.' The goal for this show, for me, has always been that you have these characters, you laugh with them even as they make horrible mistakes and they do bad things and mess up. I think telling a story that was sort of fun and lighthearted, even as the world around us is often not fun and lighthearted was really important.
As far as specific character arcs are concerned, Alex’s arc over the course of the series might be the most dramatic. Tell me a little about what the plan for Alex was and how stumbling his way into fatherhood would lead him to a kind of maturity that evaded him earlier on.
I think that was something that we really discussed at length. The idea for us was this is a character who has lived in an uninterrupted ecosystem for most of his life. He's been living in this house in Los Angeles kind of not focused on his work, fumbling around trying to find connections, trying to maybe grow, but also trying to live in his specific version of the world he's created. And then this bomb gets dropped on him that he's going to be a dad. I think our thought was it would take this sort of moment, this sort of out-of-nowhere thing that he couldn't prepare for that he couldn't build and algorithm for that just sort of hit to make him actually change and evolve and grow. I think for a lot of people, they would never say they're ready for fatherhood; they would never admit, 'Oh, yeah, I can handle this.' I think most people go, 'I'm so out of my depths.' And for [Alex] it's probably the same way until you realize he's actually pretty good at it and he loves his kid and he's willing to sacrifice for his kid. It's all those things that he would never have expected in himself, but he's able to do it because of the presence of this person that he loves more than himself.
Tell me a little bit about the final episode, and how it begins by mirroring the pilot with the characters attending a funeral. Was that something you were keeping in your pocket the whole time or did it just sort of end up being like that?
Well, it's something we talked about a lot in breaking the final season. I loved the idea of doing a parallel pilot episode. And for us, even beyond the funeral dream is the idea that [Alex and Val] go on this double date together and they get caught talking about their dates in the bathroom. That was all stuff we did intentionally, so our thought was, 'Okay, we're gonna do the version of the pilot where they don't actually have a disastrous date. Everything goes well and they're good and they're happy together. And they have this successful night where they go singing and they go home with their dates and everything goes great, except they have to leave. Alex has to leave.'
So for us, I felt like it was a fun way to tell a story, to show how these characters had changed in the four years that we drew them. These are people doing the same thing that they did in episode 1, but they're approaching it differently and they're taking something else away from it. So the arcs themselves, a lot of them wrap up in episode 7, and so episode 8 becomes this weird fun diversion until it isn't. That was always the intent. I think our favorite episodes end up that way, where you start to watch something that feels like 'Oh, this is fun. They're on a double date and having a good time,' and then suddenly you get this really emotional and heavy moment between the two of them that kind of wraps up the series and comes a little bit out of nowhere or it comes a little bit unexpectedly. I think that was really fun for us to write to and fun for us to make, and when we actually saw it we were really happy with how it turned out.
The final season of Casual is currently streaming on Hulu.