A few years ago, before anyone really took Amazon seriously as a television powerhouse, I thought it was cute that they were doing a Caddyshack show. Looking at the show’s icon on the website, I didn’t really know any of the actors, had never heard of either of the producers (Joe Gangemi and Gregory Jacobs) and Richard Kind’s wonderfully huge smiling face was really the only one that resonated. But I saw Paul Reiser’s name and I loved when those two worked together way back in Mad About You, when as a teenager I fell deeply into Hollywood love with Helen Hunt. And all of those emotions mixed together and ended up with a click to play. I haven’t looked back since.
One part Caddyshack. One part Everwood. And one part A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man. Red Oaks tells the story of a long gone age of the 1980s, where a young man named David (played by the incredible Craig Roberts) who comes from a working class family, and seeks a higher spiritual life as a videographer for hire but settles to be an Assistant Tennis Pro in a New Jersey country club. His father (Richard Kind) and mother (Jennifer Grey) are falling apart together, their marriage dissolving in front of their eyes and 18 year old David is struggling to find his place as an artist in a word where he is surrounded by bankers and doctors and being called down what Joseph Campbell refers to as, “The Right Hand Path.” To complicate matters, his beautiful high school girlfriend is an aerobics instructor at the same country club and that is all about to get upset when David meet Skye, the free spirited and distant daughter (played the extremely talented Alexandra Socha) of the club President, Getty, played by Paul Reiser. Getty is a Wall Street Bonds trader and Overlord of Finance who seeks David’s help to win the seasonal Tennis competition against his arch-rival Dr. Feinberg. And when you add in the warm and joyous supporting cast, including Wheeler the Stoner Genius (played by the wonderful Oliver Cooper) and his gorgeous girlfriend Misty (played by the supremely talented Alexandra Turshen), Nash the Dreaming Lover and Head Tennis Pro (played by Ennis Esmer), and the ridiculous but utterly lovable goof of a club photographer named Barry, played by the stunningly funny Josh Meyers, and you have a very tight first season that sets the stage for David’s ascension to finding his bliss down the Left Hand Path of the artist. The season closes on new found love between many of the characters, love that could set them all free if it doesn’t drive them mad and make us die laughing first.
The second season tells the story about what happens after love opens these characters up, makes them vulnerable, and tries to destroy them in the process. David and Skye deliver each other into a new world of adulthood as both flail away from their homes and their parents, who are left to pick up the pieces of what it means to be a parent without constant fretting and fawning over their children. Wheeler and his girlfriend Misty, who is way out of his league but who ultimately is drawn to him because of his deep love and warmth, edge slowly into adulthood and peek over the wall at what those next steps might mean. Barry and Karen take the plunge into marriage, one of them right onto the Jersey highway, and not in the romantic Springsteen Born To Run way. And David and Skye launch each other into opposite directions, each walking away on the path their hearts take them, which, unfortunately ends up being away from each other by the end of the season. Season 2 is the Empire Strikes Back of this show, where disillusionment cloaks most of the hope that Season 1 ended with, but nonetheless hope still remains.
And finally, Season 3 is far too short but it does resolve into what I will call a satisfying ending, a tale well told about characters I have grown to love in a very short 26 episodes told in 13 hours over 3 years. Closing the book on Red Oaks was cathartic in the same way that I have to go through every time I think of the 1980s, a flood of emotions and memories of clattering spoons in empty cereal bowls in front of the television during Saturday Morning Cartoons, an institution as sacred in my memory as the Tennis Club Pro Championship was to Getty in Season 1. And like these characters, we grow as people in our early 20s, trying to clutch to the good things of the past, while looking forward with hope to the good things to come. And those bad things that happen, well those are just speed bumps on the way to success.
When a show ends, I try to look into the future and see where my mind’s eye places the characters I love and I love them all in this show, every single one of them, for all their flaws and all their joys and all their pain. Here’s what I see for Red Oaks - three seasons and a movie. I would love to see David in the year 2000, just before 9/11 takes our world from us, when America is at the peak of its power and influence. I need to see Getty and Wheeler and Misty and Nash and Barry and Karen and Skip and I definitely need to see Skye come back from whatever mountain she ends up on. Her complications drove David down the path that made him into the man he becomes and when they meet again, he just might be the one to save her, like we are sometimes called to do as people come in and out of our lives like mice in need scuttling through tunnels in time. I hope Amazon allows us to revisit this world and these wonderful people soon.
Josh’s Red Room Score = A (Highly Rewatchable)
CLICK HERE to watch Red Oaks on Amazon Prime