Of all the streaming services, Amazon Prime is the smallest. It doesn’t come close to matching the output of Netflix and doesn’t have a consistent release calendar like Hulu. However, between “Transparent” and “Mozart in the Jungle,” Amazon has created series with an “indie feel” (the shows are shot simply and are set in relatively small worlds). “Red Oaks” fits into that mold. While it may not be the best comedy on television or even on its streaming service — that honor belongs to “Transparent” — the comedy creates a world that is fun to spend time in. That’s enough to make the small commitment worthwhile.
“Red Oaks” is set in the world of the Red Oaks Country Club in suburban New Jersey during 1980s. It focuses in particular on David (Craig Roberts, “Neighbors”), an accounting student at New York University who gets a summer job as a tennis teacher at the club. It fills the world with an eclectic group of supporting characters including Nash (Ennis Esmer, “The Listener”), the head tennis teacher who tries many different money-making schemes at the club; Misty (Alexandra Turshen, “Boy Meets Girl”), David’s girlfriend and the aerobics instructor at the club; Getty (Paul Reiser, “Married”), the president of the club who mentors David; and Skye (Alexandra Socha, “Royal Pains”), Getty’s daughter who bonds with David.
The most attractive elements of “Red Oaks” are the world it creates and the wide array of characters that fill it. The show works hard over the first several episodes to make the club feel like a living, breathing place by filling it with a group of supporting characters who make an impact right away. Reiser’s Getty is portrayed as pretentious and rich, but the show layers his character as he becomes a mentor to David. As that part of his role expands, he becomes more human. In addition, Nash can’t escape his weak characterization as a cartoon womanizer in the pilot. However, in subsequent episodes, the comedy finds nuance in his broad character by building Nash’s relationships with David and Getty.
“Red Oaks” ’s problems are small, but they do hold it back. The show has trouble figuring out what to do with David’s mother Judy (Jennifer Gray, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) and father Sam (Richard Kind, “Inside Out”), who aren’t connected to the club. Both Grey and Kind try to work with the material they’re given, but for the first several episodes, all they’re asked to do is yell at each other. The show presents them as a couple who shouldn’t have stayed together, and the result is that one-note joke that has been beaten to death on other sitcoms. However, there’s a moment in the show’s fourth episode where the two of them take drugs together that feels fresh compared to everything the characters did before. It gives hope that the show will take the characters in a different direction.
Given the massive amount of great television made right now, it’s hard to recommend that anyone watch “Red Oaks” immediately. However, that doesn’t mean it should be completely ignored. Add this show to the watchlist and press play during a slow weekend — this is the best way to absorb yourself into the fun world of the Red Oaks Country Club.