Amazon’s Red Oaks has many of the classic elements of an 80’s-set coming of age comedy: A protagonist working a crappy summer job while wrestling with indecision about what to do with his life, a loveable doofus/stoner trying to win the heart of an impossibly hot lifeguard, and a moody love interest who spends her idle time causing her wealthy parents anguish. Despite those expected tropes and archetypes Red Oaks stands apart from other similar stories (Adventureland, Superbad) and feels original and fresh.
The show centers around David (Craig Roberts), a college student home for the summer and working as a tennis coach at the Red Oaks country club. David is just now coming to terms with the fact that he does not want to be an accountant like his father, or get married and live in a house with a white picket fence as he and his girlfriend had planned.
While David is struggling to find direction in his life we find that nearly all of the staff members at Red Oaks are experiencing difficulties that come with growing older. David’s boss Nash (Ennis Esmer), a charismatic and talented tennis coach, experiences something of a mid-life crisis having spent his entire career teaching rich housewives rather than achieving his potential. Esmer’s Nash steals the show, especially when he’s trying to squeeze money out of the club’s members, or shirking his responsibilities with reckless abandon. In a particularly amusing scene Nash is offered cocaine in the locker room to which he replies “No thanks. I have to go teach a children’s workshop… Then again, I do have to teach a children’s workshop.”
Wheeler (Oliver Cooper) a doofus of a valet, and the club’s resident weed dealer is tempted to start dealing blow to try and win the respect of Misty the lifeguard (Alexandra Turshen). Wheeler’s relationship with Misty is interesting and satisfying, but slightly more realistic than say, a Judd Apatow flick where the dopey stoner ends up marrying the smokin’ hot babe.
The president of Red Oaks, Mr. Getty (Paul Reisler) struggles to connect with his daughter Skye (Alexandra Socha), who rejects the upper crust/country club lifestyle. The character of Mr. Getty is proof that Reisler can play any character as long as that character is an asshole (he was previously best known for playing Burke in Aliens; objectively the snakiest jerk in the history of cinema).
For a show about people spinning their wheels and wrestling with uncertainty Red Oaks moves at a very comfortable pace. Each character’s storyline runs more or less parallel to one another, But they intersect just often enough to remind you that these people all know each other and exist in the same world.
Red Oaks feels, at times, like a John Hughes production. Back before every young protagonist had to be an awkward, brooding, Micheal Cera/Jesse Eisenberg type. It is at times as fun as Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, and as thoughtful as The Breakfast Club. But Red Oaks doesn’t feel like an extension or even an homage to that genre, it stands on it’s own.
While David’s journey to figure out what he’s doing with his life, and his misadventures along the way will no doubt resonate with the younger millennial crowd. Red Oaks also shows us that no matter how old you are, 20, 40, or 60, we’re all still growing up and trying to figure out how life works.
Producers: Joe Gangemi, David Gordon Gree, Gregory Jacobs, Steven Soderbergh.
Cast: Craig Roberts, Ennis Esmer, Jennifer Grey, Gage Golightly, Paul Reiser, Richard Kind.