Red Oaks is a show on Amazon that most of you have probably never heard of, and if not for recommendations from others, I wouldn’t have heard of it, either. It’s a great show. You should watch it.
Created by Joe Gangemi and longtime Soderbergh collaborator Gregory Jacobs, Red Oaks is set in the 1980s, where Craig Roberts (Submarine) plays a college-aged tennis instructor working at a country club. He has a girlfriend who also works at the country club; he’s kind of aimless; and he has no idea what to do with his life, although his father (Richard Kind) wants him to become an accountant. His mother (Jennifer Grey), meanwhile, may have a thing for women.
Roberts’ character also has a crush on the daughter (Alexandra Socha) of the country-club president (Paul Reiser). Reiser’s character takes him under his wing in a mentor role, while his daughter tries to mentor him in, uh, other activities. There’s also a McConaughey in Dazed and Confused type (Ennis Esmer) and a Seth Rogen type (Oliver Cooper), who smokes weed and attempts to get a woman way out of his league (Alexandra Turshen) to fall in love with him.
The description really doesn’t do it justice, however. It’s easier to describe as something you’d associate with the David Gordon Green sensibility (he serves as an exec-producer and directs several episodes, as does Amy Heckerling). It’s funny, and engaging, and sweet, and while it is set in the 1980s, it’s not self-aware. It’s very matter-of-fact about the era, and the characters don’t dress like 80’s caricatures.
I wasn’t completely sold at the outset on Craig Roberts as the lead, but he ultimately pulls off the mix of insecure confidence and bumbling charm the role warrants. It’s hard to believe that Jennifer Grey is old enough to play the wife of Richard Kind (and she looks 10 years younger, despite only the four year age gap), but it’s not only nice to see her again, she’s well cast and someone going through her own emotional transition. Richard Kind, however, is the stand-out, sprinkling poignant moments through the 10-episode first season. There’s also a lot to be said for Oliver Cooper, who is understated and warm in spite of being the country club’s pot-smoking loser.
It’s hard to draw comparisons here, although the closest one might come is to say it’s a cross between Summer School, The Wonder Years, and Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls. It’s comfortable, funny without being jokey, and it contains that bit of magic and authenticity that elevates every great coming-of-age story.