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Television

‘Casual’ Season 2 explores the difficulties of finding friendships as an adult

"Casual" is about a bachelor brother Alex (played by Tommy Dewey) and his newly divorced sister Valerie (Michaela Watkins, right), and her teen daughter, Laura, center, played by Tara Lynne Barr, living under one roof again.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

There’s a moment that happens early in Season 2 of “Casual,” Hulu’s indie take on a family comedy, when divorcée Valerie Meyers (played by Michaela Watkins) is sitting at a bar, her face lit up by her phone as she woefully waits for a text that never comes.

But this is not a woman waiting by the phone for a guy. This is a woman waiting by the phone for a friend — or rather, validation that she actually has some. Any. One, even. 

If the debut season of “Casual” was about dating and sex and the growing pains of adjusting to a new life, this season, which has its two-episode premiere on June 7, delves into the complexities and perils of finding friends and meaningful relationships.

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“We’re treating friends the same way we’ve treated relationships: looking at the messiness of what it means to have a new person in your life, even if it’s not a sexual relationship,” said show creator Zander Lehmann. “We wanted to explore what it’s like finding friendships as an adult — it’s so, so hard. And they’re each settling into new phases.”

Much like the series itself.

“Casual,” which centers on bachelor Alex (Tommy Dewey) and his newly divorced sister (Watkins) and her teen daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr), was part of a handful of shows that kicked-off Hulu’s aggressive push into original programming last year.  

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But one might say the comedy — executive produced by Lehmann, along with indie filmmaker Jason Reitman, Helen Estabrook and Liz Tigelaar — experienced far less difficulties acclimating to its place in the world than its central characters. 

The Lionsgate Television-produced series was well-received by critics and went on to earn the distinction of being the first Hulu series to be nominated for a Golden Globe.

“It sort of raised the bar for us and we realized we couldn’t phone in Season 2 because people would have high expectations,” Lehmann quipped during a recent day on set.

Lehmann was at the show’s homebase, Tamarack Studios in the Valley, seated alongside Estabrook, in the throes of production on Episode 11. The episode features a scene that involves Alex painstakingly giving therapy a try.

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“Each of the characters have this thing about, what extent can you live in your idealized world and when does everything come crashing down,” Estabrook said. “Just like we’re pushing the characters this season, we wanted to push ourselves.”

To keep the momentum going and to help with the added episode load (this season will have 13 episodes over last season’s 10), a writer was added for the second season — bringing the total to five, including Lehmann. 

The producers said viewers will notice episodes that are more experimental, spending more time with minor characters and playing with the balance of serious and funny.

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“The writers have this way of pacing things out,” Dewey said. “There’s a layering that happens, particularly this season now that the characters are established. Our characters are sort of confronted with their problems. The cracks are there and they’re figuring out what to do.”

The result: After scrambling and bumbling in trying to date in the first season, Valerie now has new co-workers and some serious love interests. Of course, with Valerie, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

“Valerie has a real psychological breakthrough that happens this season,” Watkins said. “I’d say she’s pretty steady until about Episode 6, and then it’s like a freight train. She doesn’t have any more ... to give.”

Laura, meanwhile, is on the search for a new school and has a new best friend  and a new guy she’s sort of seeing. And perpetual deflector Alex reconnects with an ex-girlfriend and also has a work storyline — he’s the founder of a dating app — that comes with a new work foil (played by “Mad Men’s” Vincent Kartheiser).

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“We were able to stretch things a little bit further,” said Reitman, who once again directed the first two episodes of the season. “This is a shot that’s not too plot heavy or does too much. It’s really about the little moments ... well, and, the bitterness and sarcasm.”

Because the family that is cynical and cruelly wry together, stays together.

This story is part of The Times’ special summer television issue. Read more here.

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yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

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Follow me on Twitter: @villarrealy


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