Amazon’s charming ’80s homage 'Red Oaks' begins to fizzle

Monday, October 23, 2017 - 10:33am

NOSELL

Amazon Studios

 

We're in an era where countless series act as homages to past styles. Amazon’s “Red Oaks,” one such modern tribute, has finally run its course. The series, which is very much a love letter to the coming-of-age films of the ’80s, has been released for a third and final season of six episodes. The nouveau-riche country club of “Red Oaks” has been bypassed as the main setting, as protagonist David Myers (Craig Roberts, “22 Jump Street”) has taken a new job in New York City. The end of season two found David at a crossroads between two offers, both of which he turned down. Instead, he accepts an internship at a New York based video production company.

David’s relocation makes sense for his character, who may have taken the job in the city to keep up with his ex-girlfriend, Skye. From the looks of it, the city is getting the better of David, who is brutally rejected by a trendy cashier after he tries to spit some game with her. While he plays his cards right, the magic just isn’t there. She lets him off with a plain and honest no, which is compounded by some shenanigans back at the office. Joan Jett (Augie Duke, “Chemistry”) complains that David delivered the wrong food. She and her agents proceed to make a big fuss, blaming David’s incompetence, until Jett reveals that she actually, indeed, ordered this. Everyone has a big laugh.

The audience is drawn in further to the madness of entertainment after David goes on a quest to find 25 female mannequins painted silver. The chore takes the entirety of the day and the assistance of officemate Annabelle (Allison Lanier, “It Happened in L.A.”), only to find out that they are not needed at the very end. While David is put through the ringer, he doesn’t seem stupid or naive, just in a pinch. At the end of the episode, when his tribulations are over, David is relaxing in his (spacious, by today’s standards) apartment when his old friend Wheeler (Oliver Cooper, “Project X”) shows up to move in. They engage in some light banter, a dumb back-and-forth that runs intentionally long, which contrasts to the severity of David’s earlier scenes.

Back home, at Red Oaks, Nash (Ennis Esmer, “The Listener”) begins training a new tennis coach, but is sidetracked by the looming threat of the purchase of the club. He’s a Turkish Austin Powers, sleuthing around the club like a graceless pervert. Nash’s searches turn up empty, until he catches a long-time member in the locker room and confronts him. The old man gives Nash, who is buck-naked, the information he wants, but not without some reproach. Nash then confronts the owner of the club, who confesses that a sale may be advantageous. David’s narrative and Nash’s narrative are the perfect complements to one another. Nash, who possesses the drive and ambition that David is lacking, is in a position of power to leverage his future. David, on the other hand, has the potential upward mobility and youth that Nash lacks. The two primary plots of “Red Oaks” work fairly well together to create a light, fun story that holds the interest of viewers.

“Red Oaks” is a cute coming-of-age show, but with a budget like something off the CW, it’s no surprise that it was unable to garner enough attention to sustain itself. Other comedy television series, like “Broad City,” “Rick and Morty” and “BoJack Horseman” offer more novelty and jokes per episode, without wallowing in nostalgia of the past. “Red Oaks” carries a little more dramatic weight as it works out the fates of David and Nash, but even these problems are set in the comfortable, easy past. The series could benefit from a going more extreme in either direction: high-stakes drama or absurd comedy. However, it’s unlikely that viewers will get the excitement they’re looking for. Season three is ramping up to be a quiet, comfortable conclusion.