Red Oaks had a great pilot. It wasn’t trying to be the most original or thought-provoking comedy, it was just funny and fun to watch. A loving portrait of 1985 New Jersey seen through the eyes of David, a nervous college freshman (the very talented Craig Roberston from Submarine) during his summer vacation working as a tennis instructor at a upscale Jewish country club. Richard Kind played his dad who wanted him to be an accountant, filthy dancer Jennifer Grey played his controlling mother and Paul Reiser played the owner of the country club who feels threatened by David. David attempts to balance all of this including female trouble under the wing of the senior tennis instructor, an eccentric Turkish man named Nash (a hilarious Ennis Esmer) with bizarre views on life. That’s what the pilot laid out, but unfortunately the nine episodes that followed completely lost the energy and tone of the pilot and became a predictable, derivative and overall not very funny show.
The first problem with the remaining nine episodes is that they abandoned the strong relationship between Nash and David. Nash was regulated to a side character in favor of David’s relationship with Paul Reiser’s rapacious country club mogul and Paul Reiser’s rebellious daughter that David of course falls head over heels in love with. There’s nothing wrong with Paul Reiser’s performance, in fact there’s nothing wrong with any performance on the show. The acting might be the only inarguably good thing about Red Oaks, it’s just we’ve seen this kind of mentor relationship in so many other shows and movies. In fact, we’ve seen pretty much all of these characters (with the exception of Esmer’s Nash) several times before.
Richard Kind’s dad is so stereotypically Jewish that he’s a fucking accountant and Jennifer Grey’s Jewish mom is a relentless nag of course. Paul Reiser is the greedy and condescending capitalist with a even more materialistic wife (a completely wasted Gina Gershon) and an angry, neglected daughter (a notably good Alexandra Sochs) Project X’s Oliver Cooper is a chunky stoner who crushes on the hot blonde and Josh Meyers (Seth Meyers’ brother) is the creepy older dude with too much self-confidence. We’ve seen these characters so many times, and the episodes after the pilot really highlight how there’s barely any uncharted terrain left for them. The worst moment of the series features David and his father switching bodies in a Freaky Friday-esque episode that seems completely out-of-place and surprisingly underwhelming. It’s like Craig Robertson showed up on set with a great Richard Kind impression and the writers loved it so much they wasted an entire thirty minutes on a thirty-second joke.
Red Oaks isn’t terrible, it’s just not very interesting or funny. David Gordon Green and Amy Heckerling bring some much needed flavor to the episodes they direct, but at the end of the day that paired with solid performances just isn’t enough to give this show wings. Amazon is trying to find it’s new Transparent, and if Red Oaks is any indication of their best efforts, they might not find it for years to come. Grade: C