Coming of age scripts always have a special place in Hollywood’s heart and that of audiences. The list is long and endearing, and everyone has favorites. This fact alone makes Amazon’s Original series Red Oaks more than a safe bet, not to mention it’s a Steven Soderbergh vehicle.
Eerily reminiscent of 1993’s Dazed and Confused (even some of the dialogue is similar), Red Oaks substitutes Texas high school football for 1985 New Jersey country club tennis and associated shenanigans. Who knew Pink, Slater and Wooderson had younger Jewish cousins? And they are just as stoned, swapping Aerosmith and Alice Cooper for Roxy Music and Whodini.
The story, which Amazon re-ordered and aired earlier this month after a successful pilot in August of 2014, follows the journey of David Myers (Craig Roberts), a sheltered, 20-year-old student at NYU who is at an upper-middle class crossroads. The former high school tennis star is torn between following wishes of father Sam (Richard Kind) that he follow in his CPA footsteps or enjoying the summer with his friends at the Red Oaks Country Club while eyeing something bigger in store. Like with Dazed and Confused, an entire cast of misfits await David, from playboy tennis pro Nash (Ennis Esmer), who is eager to show him what living in the 80s as a young adult is all about, to high school buddy Wheeler (Oliver Cooper), the local stoner drug dealer who keeps all the club fat cats high on his supply while parking their Ferraris and Benzes.
David is in a rut and desperately seeks not Susan but someone and something far different than the pre-ordained future set before him, one that sees him taking over his dad’s business and marrying high school sweetheart Karen (Gage Golightly), who is already looking for an apartment in the city where she and David can move in and counting the number of children they’ll have.
All the while, our young protagonist oversees the unraveling of his parents’ marriage. Mom Judy (Jennifer Grey) is a bored housewife who seeks to reintroduce fireworks into her relationship with Sam, even if that means exploring a lesbian relationship. Meanwhile, Sam is oblivious albeit just as blasé about the relationship, with his only true passion being fatty food, so much so that he suffers a heart attack while playing tennis with David during the pilot. This only makes David more anxious about his future.
Seeking one last summer hurrah before getting serious about his future and the decisions he’ll have to make, David takes a job as a tennis pro and quickly learns the club – and party scene – ropes from Nash. In doing so, he meets Getty (Paul Reiser), a wealthy financier and the club’s president who is desperate to finally win the annual Labor Day tennis tournament. Getty not only provides David with generous tips for his tutelage but unwittingly an introduction to his daughter Skye, the difference David has been searching for.
Skye is a mysterious and worldly artist, everything aerobics instructor Karen is not, and entices David to open up his options, professionally and otherwise. He had already seen her around the club and was desperate to find out who she was, as the first sighting resulted a very Fast Times at Ridgemont High – Phoebe Cates-pool response. Just replace Phoebe, or in this case Skye, with mom. It all elicits a very naughty Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fantasy, but that’s for a different time.
In addition to providing a spark that David is looking for, Skye encourages him to be different and his own man, to take a chance, even as she is desperate to recapture her father’s attention. So what better way to get back at her folks? You see where we are going with this.
While not reaching the same pinnacle as The Wonder Years, Red Oaks is a guilty pleasure well worth the requisite 10 hours needed to watch Season 1. It even comes complete with fun side stories, like Nash’s wealthy pursuits and Wheeler’s courting of club hottie Misty (Alexandra Turshen). Red Oaks is no doubt part of the reason for Amazon’s recent success, which saw the company’s shares spike after a nearly 25-percent hike in third-quarter sales, and a sign of things to come for streaming audience that is hungry for more.