The season 2 finale of Hulu’s Casual was filled with a moving van, The Expendables on DVD, a whole lot of pills — and had me blubbering like a baby.
“We always want to break the trope of the happy wedding that saves everything, or the sad death that ruins everyone’s life,” creator Zander Lehmann tells EW. “The world is not black and white like that.” Here, Lehmann takes us through the epic season finale (which at one point he thought would be the series finale) and what to expect next season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you know Casual would have a third season when you wrote the season 2 finale?
ZANDER LEHMANN: We did not know. I wrote the episode with the idea that in the event we didn’t get a third season, it could serve as a series finale because there’s a level of resolution, and it feels like a lot of the problems of the past were wrapped up. And I think what it gives us, which I’m really happy about, is an answer to a lot of the deep-seeded dramatic tension that’s been permeating through these two seasons. So now we’re kind of free to tell whatever story we want and can have a little more comedic stuff and find new stories to tell. It could’ve worked as a season finale or a series finale, if need be, and we were able to get these great, emotional performances because the cast didn’t know that we’d be coming back. There were a lot of tears on set.
Did any part of you think, ‘Man, I wish I had saved that ending’?
[Laughs] No, in the world of TV today, you can’t save your death. We’re all fighting for viewership and this felt like the right story to tell at this time. It’s something that we were building to throughout the season, and I think it actually helped a lot with all of our character arcs to send them off to all of these places. I think we’ll be able to top it whenever we do have a series finale.
What can you tell us about season 3 so far?
We start writing in October and don’t know exactly what the story will be, but we’re going to use the fact that Valerie and Laura move out of the house. It’s not going to be one of the fake-outs where they’re back in the house and everything’s normal. We actually want to see Valerie and Laura exploring a world that’s new for them, living together without Alex. We want to see who ends up filling the space in Alex’s house — he’s about to face the reality of what happens when you don’t have roommates, a job, or a purpose, and you have to find meaning and a way to survive. I think that will be explored. We also talked about potentially bringing back certain family members as well as new family members, and creating renewed family tensions. Dad is gone, but mom is still out there, so we have a lot of thoughts about where this could go. But ultimately, we want to do something that’s a little more comedic and potentially a little more episodic. We’ve had this 23 episode dramatic arc that feels very serialized, and I think we could get away with a couple episodes that are more standalone. That could be fun to try.
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Could you see Valerie ultimately getting back together — for real — with her ex-husband?
I think the idea at the end of the season is that she probably will not be going back to him. Her memories of her marriage are sort of tainted, and this season, Laura helps her see that she was looking at the past with rose-colored glasses, and she needs to move forward. We still have Jack — [actor] Kyle Bornheimer is so wonderful — and I love their chemistry together. I also think the idea of Leon, who helps her move into her new home, could be a potential love interest.
Leon is the most standup guy in Casual — fans are really rooting for him.
He’s the moral center of the whole show. I’d love to see them together. We don’t know how it will play out entirely, but Leon’s been pining over Valerie — or, surrounding her like a satellite — so he’ll get his due at some point. If there was a shipping going on, fans tend to want Valerie and Leon to get together. They probably have to, but the longer we can deprive them of that, the more drama we can give.
What went into the decision to euthanize Valerie and Alex’s father, Charles?
It was an idea that we had early on in the season, and everyone was really excited about it. Thematically, the show has a lot to say about death, so it didn’t feel like we were taking this total left turn. The idea of having control over your life and death are themes we explore. There were people on our show who’ve actually helped a terminally ill family member pass, so we consulted them, did a lot of research, and wanted to make it feel as truthful as possible, both emotionally and physically. If there’s any controversy about it, you kind of have to shrug your shoulders. I think we did it in an elegant way and hopefully it helps our audience examine their own feelings about death and family.
The season finale was one of the few moments Laura’s age really comes to surface — she was denied prescription drugs at the pharmacy because she’s a minor. It was one of the few times we’ve seen her outside of her whole world.
Laura is being confronted with something real that she never had to deal with. She never confronted the fact that her boyfriend was dying, and now there’s a person dying on the couch next to her. She’s trying to take on an adult role as a caretaker, get medicine and really be there, but she realizes that it’s out of her control. She’s not prepared emotionally, physically, or even in age to do these things and I think a lot of that comes out at the end. I like the last moments when she reaches back out to Spencer to give it another shot, and she, Valerie, and Leon go into this new home. It feels like she comes to terms with her place in the world and wants to move forward.
This one’s tough, but on a scale of 1 to 10, how happy to do you think Valerie, Alex, and Laura are actually capable of being?
[Laughs] That’s a good question — it feels more personal than you know! I think you’d hope that they could get to a 10, but I don’t know that anyone is ever at a 10 for very long. Real characters have moments where they’re at a 1, 5, 10, and anywhere in between. In a television series like this, you have to show all of those ranges — we’re trying to portray the experience of being human, and you sort of vacillate, depending on your mood and what’s going on around you. I’d love it if they could get to 10s and really feel joy in season 3, but we tend to give them those in fleeting instances. It’s a matter of how much drama you can really mine from people being really happy — those two don’t tend to sync up, unfortunately. You need characters to make bad decisions and struggle to further the dramatic storylines.