Coming-of-age stories are a rarity on television, where youth is generally tainted by unrealistic wealth and precociousness, clearly written as a means for series creators to live vicariously. This is exactly what makes Amazon Studios’ Red Oaks feel like such a breath of fresh weed-clogged air, as it presents a group of characters both young and old who clearly don’t quite know what to do with themselves. It’s like The Wonder Years as filtered through Dazed and Confused, and it’s about as perfect as dramedy pilots get.
Created by Joe Gangemi (Stonehearst Asylum) and Gregory Jacobs (Criminal), Red Oaks boasts Academy Award-winning Steven Soderbergh as an executive producer and David Gordon Green (George Washington, Pineapple Express) as the pilot’s director. Nearly everyone involved with this project has proven themselves adept at crossing genres, and Red Oaks is a stellar blend of workplace and relationship comedy smashed together with in-the-moment family drama, and it’s all anchored by a stellar cast.
Submarine breakout Craig Roberts stars as David, a 20-year-old whose main goal in life is avoiding spending the summer of 1985 working for his dad Sam, played by Richard Kind. The very first scene is a good tonal indicator, as Sam has a sudden heart attack on the tennis court and chooses that point to manically confess that he and David’s mother Judy (Jennifer Grey) were only together for David’s sake, and that he should have gotten with an Asian woman. It was only a mild heart attack, but now David has to live with the fact that his parents aren’t quite who he thought they were.
David takes a job as an assistant tennis pro at Red Oaks country club, where the members are nearly as pampered as the employees are rambunctious. He works beneath Nash (Ennis Esmer), a lothario who uses his tennis pro status for job perks and hassle-free infidelity. Karen (Gage Golightly), David’s girlfriend, is a touch too pretty for him and her longterm goals don’t add up to what he’s looking for in life. Of course, he also doesn’t want to be like his buddy Wheeler (Oliver Cooper), who spends most of his time hitting joints and railing on his coworkers for not obsessing over pop culture the way he does.
There are no super-high stakes here, other than a couple of tennis matches between David and the hotheaded Getty, superbly played with an upturned nose by Paul Reiser. Much of the episode takes place at a big employee party, where the kegs are plentiful and the golf courses are used for more lascivious “holes in one.” And all the while, David’s eye keeps straying to another lady.
Other characters and situations are set up – including a prick of a golf pro – which make Red Oaks’ future feel like a necessity, rather than something left to chance. With a firm grasp on its sense of humor and a soundtrack that includes everything from Billy Ocean and Billy Squier, this series could be one of the most legitimate comedies on TV, but only if it actually becomes a series.
As with the other Pilot Seasons, your duty is to watch the show here and then give it a rating at the bottom of the page. While excellent ratings don’t necessarily mean the show will get a full season, Amazon execs definitely take them into consideration. So spread the word!