New Neon series 'Casual' gives an honest look at life after love

Michaela Watkins and Tommy Dewey play Valerie and Alex Cole in new series Casual. Photo / Supplied
Michaela Watkins and Tommy Dewey play Valerie and Alex Cole in new series Casual. Photo / Supplied

It's a classic television story; a woman in her 40s splits from her husband after he cheats on her with a younger woman, then must figure out how to navigate life on her own.

Usually it's all very fabulous, exciting and a bit Sex and the City. But it's not like that in real life, and it's not like that on Casual, the new drama/comedy series coming to Neon.

It's one of the more honest accounts of what life is like dating these days, in which Valerie (played by Michaela Watkins) splits from her husband and moves in with her brother Alex who happens to be the creator of a successful online dating site.

And so begins her first foray into the world of online dating. Creating a profile is cringe-worthy, the actual dates are awkward, and some of the bedroom encounters are hilariously unbearable.

"Wouldn't you be [awkward] if you'd never been on a date in 20 years?" says Watkins.

Michaela Watkins says her character's awkwardness it just "honest". Photo / Supplied
Michaela Watkins says her character's awkwardness it just "honest". Photo / Supplied

"I sure was. I was in a long relationship and then suddenly in my mid-to-late 30s stepped into the dating world for the first time and I was so confused by the protocol of how it worked.

"And Valerie's been with the same man for so long and I mean, it just feels so honest. I hate when things feel phony in terms of a woman's sexuality, this to me, feels more relatable than anything, which is somebody who's had the comfort and familiarity of one person and suddenly has to step out and see herself...as a sexual being."

In keeping with that honesty, there's Valerie's brother Alex (Tommy Dewey), who sleeps with random women to avoid emotional connection, and her daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr), who is only 16 but is having regular sex with her mother's blessing.

Alex Cole (Tommy Dewey) sneaks out after a one night stand in Casual. Photo / Supplied
Alex Cole (Tommy Dewey) sneaks out after a one night stand in Casual. Photo / Supplied

"We're opening on [Valerie] in probably the lowest point of her life," says Watkins.

"But it's a transitional time and it's a time for growth. She has been fiercely rejected by her husband...she has this daughter who - in her mind - she's raised in a very modern way allowing her and empowering her to make all kinds of adult decisions for herself before she's really an adult ... and in that now has a daughter who doesn't really need her."

According to Watkins, Casual's showrunner Liz Tigelaar has called Laura "the most honest teenager she's seen on television".

And though a 16-year-old having her boyfriend sleep over whenever she wants may seem questionable, Watkins says that's what sets the show apart - "it doesn't feel like it's the show's job to cast good or bad onto the characters - the audience can figure that out for themselves".

Tara Lynne Barr plays 16-year-old Laura who's grown up before her time. Photo / Supplied
Tara Lynne Barr plays 16-year-old Laura who's grown up before her time. Photo / Supplied

"What's also interesting is that it takes its time to reveal information about why the characters make the decisions they make, and around episode five, instead of disdain you develop complete compassion because you discover why they do the things they do."

And along the way, they've had the freedom to explore those stories however they want.

When Casual comes to New Zealand it will stream on Neon, having started out in the US on Hulu - a move which gave them a platform for a show which otherwise may not have made it to screen.

"Streaming has really opened up this whole new world, unlocked this whole new vortex of what people can do artistically, comedically, romantically, sexually, dramatically - everything," says Watkins.

"Shows like ours can exist on this platform, and they might feel more niche or odd and by having them on streaming the right audience can find their shows and fall in love with them."

- Seasons one and two of Casual will be available on Neon from Monday, September 12.

- NZ Herald

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