Red Oaks


This show is strangely affecting. On one level it feels like fluff, on another you can’t stop watching it.

So “Red Oaks” is an Amazon Prime series. If you’re a student of the game, you might remember the hype. Paul Reiser is one of the stars and Steven Soderbergh is one of the producers, but I’d never seen it, never thought of watching it. Then a reader hipped me to it and I checked it out on “RottenTomatoes” and it had a 93% critics score and 94% audience score. How did I miss this?

Oh, that’s right, it’s on Amazon Prime.

Never forget the initial Netflix show was the excellent, highbrow “House of Cards,” one of the best series ever made (well, at least until the final season.) With that imprimatur of quality, your expectations rise, you’re looking for the next show.

The same thing happened with HBO. There was “Dream On” and “Larry Sanders” and then the silver bullet, the killer series, “The Sopranos.” Thereafter, Sunday night was for HBO. Not every HBO show is good, but there’s enough quality in the history to pay attention.

But Amazon Prime?

Amazon Prime started low and has stayed there. Furthermore, its homepage is cluttered with other offerings, just like its retail site. If it weren’t cheap and convenient shopping on Amazon I’d switch, because now it takes me ninety minutes to figure out what I want to buy, what with the sponsored products and the other diversions from reality. So I wanted to buy an electric toothbrush. Well, the model numbers on the Philips site didn’t align with those on Amazon, and what I thought I wanted to buy was gonna be delivered in weeks as opposed to overnight, which is now the Amazon Prime standard, and I was completely flummoxed. After wasting an hour and a half, I ended up triangulating with Amazon Prime delivery, the number of reviews and the “Amazon’s Choice” badge. I literally had no idea exactly what I was getting, and when I opened the box I was surprised…HOW CAN THIS BE?

Distribution is king. Which is why you want your show on the platform with the most subscribers that will promote it for you. Apple TV+’s numbers are fading now that they’re charging, let them build the network, not you, go somewhere else. Then again, having so little product they promote their shows, they don’t get lost in the shuffle. Whereas on Amazon everything gets lost in the shuffle.

Bottom line, I hadn’t heard of “Red Oaks” but then I tuned in and it was a bright spot in these hazy, lazy, confusing days of Covid-19.

So what we’ve got here is a country club story. A Jewish country club, there’s no hiding behind other ethnicities like on “Seinfeld.” And you’ve got the aforementioned Paul Reiser as a Wall Street king and head of the club and he’s not trying to be loved by the audience like he usually is…and with this edge, he’s ultimately more believable and likable.

And you’ve got the poor Jews, Jennifer Grey and Richard Kind. Grey killed her career with her nose job but she does an A+ job of acting here. And Kind and his shtick are overexposed, but by the end of the series he’s three-dimensional and you love him too.

Their son is Craig Roberts as David Myers. Turns out Roberts is Welsh, not that you’d know that without looking it up. David is from a lower middle class family, his education is in limbo and he takes a gig at the Red Oaks country club as a tennis pro. Which brings us to…

ENNIS ESMER! The main tennis pro. Esmer is so good he carries the whole series, even though he doesn’t have to, there’s so much other talent involved. An overweight schmoozer and schnorrer with an indeterminate accent…you laugh and marvel at his performance, he steals the show.

Then you’ve got stoner Oliver Cooper, as Craig/David’s sidekick. A loser who parks cars and deals dope at Red Oaks.

As for the rest of the cast, there are tons of greats, they didn’t settle for second-rate, Gina Gershon is spot on as Reiser’s wife and comedian Freddie Roman is a crotchety oldster willing to speak truth when necessary.

So, what you’ve got here is an ongoing search for love. And Reiser and Gershon’s daughter, Alexandra Socha, is fantastic as the rebel artist living off her daddy’s money. She’s edgy, yet hungry for romance.

And Cooper, he consistently eyes the unattainable, employing bad judgment all the while.

“Red Oaks” is an extended teen movie in an age when they no longer make teen movies. They make teen HORROR movies, but the old romp… There are so many great ones, like “Can’t Buy Me Love,” on one hand lowbrow yet meaningful nonetheless. But in today’s blockbuster era, film companies are reluctant to green light anything that doesn’t appeal to everybody, that also has a fantasy aspect to it, never mind that comedy is hard to do.

Not that “Red Oaks” is as good as the classic film comedies, but it’s certainly better than traditional network sitcoms.

These are just people lost in the eighties, trying to figure out their future. Not everybody is going to end up on top, just like in real life, not everybody can be a world-beater. But you’re entitled to have some laughs along the way!

So don’t go in with high expectations. Just like you never went to a teen movie with high expectations. It was something to do, it entertained you, was a respite from everyday life. That’s how you should look at “Red Oaks.”

And it’s already old, it was made from 2014-17, but it was new to me and will be new to anybody else who hasn’t seen it, and being set decades ago it is inherently dated, that’s one of its charms.

“Red Oaks” would have performed much better on Netflix.

But I’m telling you, if the foregoing resonates with you, you’ll dig “Red Oaks,” at least until the final third season, with only six episodes. But you’ve got to watch those too to see how the story turns out.

That’s right, once you have a summer with hijinks there’s nowhere left to go. They have a plot twist for season two, but ultimately the story has been told, done, finito. But that’s all right, sometimes that’s all that’s there, no use beating a dead horse like on network. But what’s there…

It’s hard to explain. I can’t rave, you can live quite nicely never having seen “Red Oaks,” but it touched me, warmed my heart and made me feel good, and there’s always room for a series like that!

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