Hit or Sh**: Amazon’s RED OAKS
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
I sure hope you’re not tired of the 80s, because it looks like pop culture isn’t letting you forget them anytime soon. Already having been forcefully corralled into the liminal summer days of yesteryear with WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER this past summer, Amazon Prime’s RED OAKS comes along at a time when, quite simply, no one was asking for it. Although by no means a notably bad show, RED OAKS can’t quite manage to transcend its mildly humorous parameters, and with the innumerable television shows currently available for consumption, there’s just not enough present to keep the viewer interested in sticking around.
Guess who has opinions on STAR WARS?
Set in the posh New Jersey Red Oaks Country Club, RED OAKS focuses on David, a disaffected soon-to-be college junior. Many will find RED OAKS’ most egregious error to be the fact that it never makes its setting feel like a necessity. Setting RED OAKS in the 80s allows for the predictable pop culture one-liners, but haven’t we been force-fed enough of them by this point? Whose fond memories of summers past are we even trying to milk? Whereas the aforementioned WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER made no secret of its intent to winkingly embrace the original viewers of its cult feature-length incarnation, RED OAKS is clearly marketed for the modern older teen. What’s the use of capitalizing on an entirely manufactured nostalgia? Although there are certainly intimations of an ironic send-up of 80s teen comedies present, Amazon Studios has overshot their target demographic by at least a decade. It’s high time we made the 90s the new 80s.
On second thought…
But, I digress. In terms of actual narrative attributes, RED OAKS is resolutely functional, and only occasionally features bona fide snippets of amusement. Richard Kind is the star of the show as David’s father, and an early scene where he suffers a heart attack, confesses to David the family’s dirty secrets (that he possesses a fetish for “Orientals” and that David’s mother is likely a lesbian), and survives is the highlight of the pilot. This leaves David to deal with the information of which he’s just been informed, and a nice bow is added to the joke when the nurse attending to his father is revealed to be a Korean woman named Sun Yi. As for the rest, most jokes seem to aim for the stars and land somewhere around a plane’s cruising altitude. Although David’s boss Nash (Ennis Esmer) eventually manages to spit out some zingers (self-describing his taste as a combination of “cardamom and Drakkar Noir” got an audible chuckle from yours truly), most of his fast-talking jive ends up just north of lukewarm. Scenes with the copy-paste stoner Wheeler grow tedious, and all the aspects of relationship drama contained within are predictable and can be guessed practically as soon as the pilot opens. However, one of the more flagrant offenses involves the complete lack of any ambition or drive from David. Although an immediate conflict is hastily painted over David’s arc when he has to bear down and beat the intimidating Mr. Getty at tennis, this is the first scene with any clear motivation on his part. It could be argued that perhaps his arc will involve him finally becoming something more substantial than transient, but introducing his love interest as Mr. Getty’s daughter at the end doesn’t make him interesting enough to warrant the viewing of a second episode.
There is a certain charm present in RED OAKS aping the quirky dryness that has established Wes Anderson as a cultural figure that’s here to stay, but there’s just too much of the pilot that exists in the median. Apart from a handful of stellar one-liners, RED OAKS can easily be passed over for WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, which has quality inconsistencies in its own right.
RED OAKS is available to watch in its entirety on Amazon Prime