Casual Recap: The Friend Zone

Michaela Watkins as Valerie, Tara Lynne Barr as Laura. Hulu
Episode Title
Such Good Friends
Editor’s Rating

While most episodes of Casual are driven by Alex and Valerie's storylines, "Such Good Friends" gives us a tighter focus on Laura and her desires as a character.   

Getting homeschooled by Alex didn't work out, so Laura and Valerie prepare for an interview with a nearby co-op. Alex is invited, but doesn't go because he has to "save the 'ole company." He mentions this news almost too coolly, suggesting that he still wants to distance himself from Laura and Valerie by facing his problems on his own.  

The co-op proves to be a supportive "big, happy family," which is undoubtedly strange and unfamiliar to Laura and Valerie. When they ask Laura what she's excited about for the upcoming school year, she seems genuinely interested in being around people who can inspire her. Sound the alarms: It is the first time her character appears earnest. Only when Valerie brings up photography does Laura revert to guarded and hostile behavior; clearly, she needs to make a change. As luck would have it, a co-op potluck is coming up, where she'll be able to meet the other students.

At lunch, Alex discusses the future of Snooger with Paul, insisting that the business was never about the money. Paul reminds Alex of his luxurious lifestyle, especially the "80 pairs of unworn socks in his closet." I don't know why this is what Paul chooses to point out — rather than Alex's propensity for drugs and alcohol — but I guess even reckless sock obsessions can be debilitating. Still, Alex doesn't want to take the help. Yet again, he chooses to fix the company on his own.

Valerie meets Jennifer for her friend-date, and it turns out they share a lot in common: They're both unapologetically blunt, and they both recently split from their husbands! Valerie begins to open up about Drew, but an emergency with a patient drags Jennifer away, leaving Valerie to finish lunch alone. Later, she asks Alex for advice on how to make friends, and he reminds her that "standard dating rules apply." Valerie may be taking a break from romance, but making friends is just as hard. Too bad Alex can only get results by playing games and manipulating others.

When he reluctantly meets with JME Capital, Alex is surprised to discover that his algorithm isn't broken — it works too well. The logic behind this is pretty depressing: Partnering with someone doesn't guarantee that you're going to be happy. So, why not let users explore before they settle down? Happiness doesn't exist anyway! Just the kind of uplifting speech Alex needs to hear.

Valerie continues to pursue her friend-crush at work, but is unable to make any progress. Frustrated by how hard it is to make friends, she complains to Laura, who apparently has the same problem. This forces Valerie to finally consider how her flawed approach to relationships has affected Laura, who also needs guidance — or a friend.

When Alex, Valerie, and Laura arrive at the potluck, Valerie pleads, "Please be on good behavior." It is assumed that she is speaking to Laura, but Alex acts out like an indignant child: "What's that supposed to mean?" The scene recalls a scene from season one, where Valerie picks Alex and Laura up at the police station. He assumes she's trying to ground him, despite the fact that he's a full-grown adult. These moments demonstrate Alex's arrested development and desire for Valerie to act as a parental figure, giving him the sense of structure he lacked as a child.

As soon as they arrive, they immediately part ways. Valerie speaks to the other parents about lessons plans (and gets a stylish new scarf!). Alex polls strangers about whether they regret settling down, and Laura explores the medicine cabinet. Alex is interrupted when he meets Rosanna, a mother who reminds him that "screen time is mean time."  

Laura can't get in touch with Alex, and decides to meet the other kids. She's afraid to look vulnerable, though, and ends up alienating everyone. Valerie is struggling as well. She doesn't get along with the other parents — who are plenty nice and welcoming enough — and she still can't manage to get Jennifer "in the friend zone." Before Laura is able to follow in her mother's footsteps and escape, another student runs after her, asking why she didn't say anything real. For once, Laura is speechless. She's forced to be brutally honest, not just to others, but to herself.  

Later, Valerie and Alex head to LunaVino to hopefully impress Jennifer. She initially doesn't show, which is too bad because Alex even brought a girl with tattoos. But Valerie and Alex begin to get along again, so the night isn't for nothing. When Jennifer finally spots Valerie at the bar and invites her over, she tries to act natural, even though her "I'm here with my friends!" response comes out hilariously stiff and robotic. It turns out that Alex was right: Even when it comes to making friends, standard dating rules do apply. Valerie made her jealous, played hard to get, and finally got a proper friend-date.

This doesn't go well for Alex, who feels lost and alone without the company of Valerie. When Alex still wanted to fix the company, he was also fighting for the chance to find a soulmate. He believed he could still make a real connection. By texting Paul and agreeing to sign the papers, he concedes that happiness doesn't exist. Unable to spend the night alone, he sends out one more text.      

The episode ends with Alex lying in bed beside Rosanna, the "screen time is mean time" lady. Still heartbroken over Emmy, he reverts back to his old self, pursuing meaningless sex to escape his loneliness. Were those small steps of progress all for nothing?