During the holiday season, when TV went on a brief hiatus, I took up Amazon on their offer for a free month of Amazon Prime and binged watched The Man in the High Castle, Transparent season two, and one of their newer original comedy series Red Oaks.
Red Oaks revolves around David, a college student who takes a summer job as a tennis pro at the fictional Red Oaks Country Club in New Jersey in the 1980s.
Despite the throwback setting and Garden State location, it has more of a Napoleon Dynamite or Juno vibe. What I mean by that is, with a few exceptions, a lot of the show could take place anywhere or anytime. In some ways that’s admirable, to be able to capture a timelessness or at least a pre-cellphone timelessness, but they took the time to specify a time and place so part of me wished they were a little less subtle on both accounts.
Like Amazon’s other comedy series, Transparent, Red Oaks blends humor with heart. Much of its laughs are derived from David trying to figure out a possible post-college life while also coming to the realization that adults, including his own parents, don’t have their shit together either. At times the series was a bit heavy-handed with this central theme, but episodes are only about 30mins long so I can forgive a few shortcuts when they are used to move the plot along.
The 10-episode season takes place over the course of the summer, which is just enough time for David to reevaluate some of the key relationships in his life and to summon up the courage to be honest with his Dad about what major he actually wants to pursue in college.
In just about every episode, most of the action takes place at the Country Club, which features its own band of misfit co-workers and club members. David’s parents are also central figures in his life and within the larger plot as well. And I have to say, for a comedy in its first season, many of the characters are actually three-dimensional. When conflict occurs, no one character is completely in the right, or wrong, and that really strengthens the storytelling.
All in all, Red Oaks is a small-scale comedy with both relatable and over-the-top moments. While it’s not typically laugh out loud funny, it’s still an enjoyable series with solid acting.
Starring: Craig Roberts, Ennis Esmer, Jennifer Grey, Richard Kind, Paul Reiser
Where to Watch: Amazon