Every week the cast and crew of Hulu’s dark comedy Casual will be taking EW behind the scenes: For each episode, one member will be recapping and sharing their thoughts on what went down in addition to walking us through the ins-and-outs of the show. For the first episode back of season 2, director and executive producer Jason Reitman kicks it off…
When Gene Wilder accepted the role of Willy Wonka, one of his conditions was that he be allowed to make his first entrance pretending to be a hobbled old man, before tumbling forward and springing up to reveal he was young and spry. He wanted to open with a lie. He wanted us to earn his trust.
At the top of Casual‘s first episode back, Laura (Tara Lynn Barr) asks her uncle Alex (Tommy Dewey) if he can play the piano. He responds that the baby grand in his living room is just for looks. It’s a typical Alex brush-off, one that befits the way he constructs the mock realism of his look and appeal. It also happens to be a lie.
The core of Casual comes down to a single provocative question: What if your soulmate were your sibling? Exploring this idea is the very reason I wanted to make the show. Season 1 did this via the romantic relationships of Valerie (Michaela Watkins) and her brother Alex as they each adventured through the world of modern dating, only to come back and share everything with each other.
Part of the family’s bond comes from an unwavering pact of trust, and Valerie’s betrayals of both Alex and her daughter Laura at the end of season 1 left the trio in crisis. It also had Alex asking a new question: What if you lost your boyfriend/girlfriend, confidante, sibling, and best friend all in one moment? This is where we begin season 2.
There’s a specific image from season 1 that encapsulates the show for me. Valerie and Alex are lying on a sofa, talking about their problems, and Alex picks up his sister’s foot and gives it a short massage. It’s body language we’ve seen a thousand times with romantic couples, but never between a brother and a sister. You can see all kinds of hair-bending, full-throttle incest on Game of Thrones, but to me, there’s something much more landscape-shaking about this small subtle intimacy between siblings. I can’t tell you the number of people who have brought this moment up to me. It freaks them out, yet it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the discomfort lies.
So I wanted to get our family back on that couch. Luckily, Zander Lehman, the creator of Casual, provided the perfect opportunity. He wrote a scene at the end of episode 1 in which the family comes to a subtle, fractured reconciliation while Valerie and Laura are in the midst of a heart-to-heart… on the sofa, of course.
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The whole reason we watch this family is because they’re uncomfortably honest with one another. When Alex tells a small lie about playing piano, it’s a microcosm for the breaches of last season’s trust. But this family needs one another, and the trust must be repaired. So Alex wanders back into the living room where Valerie and Laura lie on the sofa and talk. A few sparse words are shared, then Alex takes a seat at the piano and sprinkles off a beautiful little set of arpeggios. Laura smiles, knowing that Alex has come clean in his own way.
This is why I love making Casual. In the hands of another writer, we’d be watching a whole tedious scene about the act of earning back trust. Zander Lehman makes it happen in the time it takes to tap 88 keys.
New episodes of Casual stream Wednesdays on Hulu.