casual

There are television shows (and movies, for that matter) that my wife tends to avoid because they have no characters to “root for”. It’s not about a contest, it’s just that she likes to have a least one person who has some chance of becoming a good person, if they aren’t there already.

For this reason, I’ve told her that she should avoid Unreal, a series that takes us behind the scenes at the making of a reality dating show. Almost every character has ulterior motives (some actually wear their motives on their sleeves, so I guess those aren’t ulterior) ... almost every character is concerned almost entirely with their own personal agendas of advancement. Shiri Appleby is presented as the one person with a conscience ... when the series begins, she is returning to the dating show (called Everlasting) after having a nervous breakdown during the show’s previous season. She is very good at her job, which requires that she manipulate the women who appear as contestants trying to win the heart of the man of their dreams, doing what she can to get them (and that year’s Man of Dreams) to act in a way that will make for a good season of Everlasting. Over time, she abuses every one of the women she deals with, but because she has a conscience, she feels bad about what she does. Thus, we think she might become a good person.

Except, at least through Season One, she never makes it. She is still pulling shit as the season ends. And she is what passes for a likable character. (I haven’t yet watched Season Two. It has drawn some seriously negative reactions ... I threw out a query to some of the critics I trust most, whether I should continue watching Season Two, and the best I got was Mo Ryan saying the first two episodes were good, but that then it went downhill.)

The thing is, the people behind Unreal are quite aware of what they are doing with these characters. They are not meant to be likable. I don’t think the creators of Casual are in that place, however. Casual, a Hulu series which just finished its second season, is about a woman who is breaking up with her husband and moves, with their daughter, into her brother’s home. Once we meet the siblings’ parents, we understand why they are having such trouble as adults ... they had a rough childhood in a psychological sense. And over two seasons, the three main characters work gradually towards becoming better people. All three of them are extremely self-absorbed, but when they step outside of themselves we see some pretty decent people. The characters feel real, with all of their flaws, and we root for them.

Except ... the brother is the #1 amongst equals when it comes to self-absorption. He tramples on the lives of others, always thinking that he is the one who is suffering (in fairness, he often is). I know this kind of person ... I am this kind of person. And I try to do better, as does the character. But he is so horrible that, using my wife’s criteria, he is practically unwatchable. The writing is good, the acting is good, but I simply can’t stand that guy. I don’t even like when he gets a comeuppance, because I know it will lead to more scenes where he thinks only of himself and his traumas.

Let’s just say he hits too close to home for me. It’s a good show, but I can’t say I enjoy it much.

Everyone loves Leon, though:

 

(I wrote about the first half of Season One last year.)


picnic at hanging rock (peter weir, 1975)

Reminiscent of L’Avventura in both the mysterious disappearance of a character(s) and the ambiguous non-resolution of the mystery at film’s end. The similarities don’t reach too far, though. By the end of L’Avventura, everyone has given up wondering about the missing woman, while in Picnic at Hanging Rock, the mystery still matters after you leave the theater. Both disappearances serve as MacGuffins, in that the movies aren’t really “about” the mysteries. In Antonioni’s film, the disappearance is just a way to introduce the main characters, whose alienation is the central theme of the movie. In Hanging Rock, the disappearances distract us, at least a little, from the subtext that drives the picture. Weir relies on cinematography and the soundtrack to create an almost other-worldly ambience, such that the mystery feels ominous, and there is always the possibility that something extra-ordinary is behind the events. But what is truly unsettling is the undercurrent of sexual repression, between the schoolgirls, but also between the girls and the school’s headmistress. There are a couple of young men who also have their eyes on the schoolgirls, but you never get the feeling they’ve got a chance. Nothing is overt ... it’s like watching These Three, the Children’s Hour adaptation from the 30s where lesbianism is transformed into heterosexual infidelity. Meanwhile, Anne-Louise Lambert, as one of the missing girls, Miranda, is nearly angelic. Part of this is Lambert’s performance (and, to be honest, her looks), but just as important is the way she is photographed, as if she is simultaneously of this world and outside of it. You can see why people would obsess about her. #586 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10.