Sunday, October 11, 2015

REVIEW: 'Red Oaks' - David Is Finding Himself in a Time Where Many Things are Pulling Him in Different Directions in 'Pilot'

Amazon's Red Oaks - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

In the summer of 1985, 20-year-old David Meyers takes a job as a tennis pro at Red Oaks Country Club in suburban New Jersey, as his parents, girlfriend and co-workers pull him toward a future he's increasingly unsure he wants.

"Pilot" is just a ridiculously fun episode of television. That was apparent way back when it first debuted as a part of Amazon's third pilot season and it's still very enjoyable watching it again. This episode plays with the archetypes of '80s sex comedies in such an amusing, playful and fun way. It's its own thing but the homage to the time period is very spot on. Yes, there are some plot, dialogue and character concerns that could signal trouble for the future. But right now, Red Oaks is a light and breezy comedy set in 1985 New Jersey with a fun collection of characters spending a summer together at a country club.

David is a guy simply reacting to the world and what it wants him to become. He's not really able to voice his own desires and fears. It's a largely reactionary role in this premiere, but Craig Roberts plays that really well. David is determining his future. His parents have already plotted one out for him. They want him to be an accountant just like his dad. His girlfriend is already dreaming of living with him in their own apartment. That's a plan that terrifies David. And yet, he doesn't know how to speak up with his concerns - especially right after they've had sex. Red Oaks Country Club gives him an aspect of life that he has control over. This job saved him from working at a desk at his father's workplace. But it too is threatened to be taken away from him just as quickly as he got it. All of this makes it easy to identify with David in this opening episode. It could be frustrating watching him not open up to the people in his life in the same way that his dad does to him when he's having a heart attack. It's scary to tell people how you really feel - especially when they think something completely different. Here it works because the entire world is happening around and for David while he isn't completely sure which direction he actually wants to go. It's a fun character dilemma that should prove to be interesting throughout the season.

All of the characters of Red Oaks feel distinct the moment they appear on screen. The parents who aren't as put together as they initially seem. The over-demanding and cold boss who can be a powerful enemy if he doesn't respect you. The slightly chubby best friend who has a crush on the prettiest girl at the party. The blunt co-worker who instantly forms a connection with the protagonist. The mysterious new girl who is alluring but holds a potentially troubling secret. All of this is very distinctive character work. Every character that pops up on this show feels fully realized. It allows the show's universe to already feel populated and lived in. That's a very good thing for a setting that will and should include many people.

However, the character introductions are very fun and breezy here but will need some depth and nuance for the ongoing series. This premiere keeps the action moving quickly. It enjoys the little details of life amongst the staff at this country club. But the broad definitions of the characters can't be all they are. It's hilarious watching Sam, David's father, tell his son all these truths about his marriage while he's having a heart attack. It turns David's world upside down in seconds. But it also leads to a very broad joke where both of his parents are flirting with the nurse treating Sam. It's not a bad moment but it's basically all that Richard Kind and Jennifer Grey get to play. Similarly, the love triangle between David, Karen and Getty's daughter doesn't initially feel like it has a lot of purpose besides keeping the plot exciting. Karen does nothing but imagine her future with David. The show is very clearly pulling David to Getty's daughter. That seems more ripe for potential conflict in the future considering the big tennis match David and Getty have in this premiere. But the show doesn't really do enough to make David and Karen's relationship anything more than something that used to be genuine but has grown a bit tiresome.

Similarly, the B story with Wheeler, David's friend, pursuing hot girl Misty after her dim lifeguard boyfriend broke up with her wasn't as amusing as the main story with David. The big party set piece of the episode is where the majority of this story lives. That is a fun sequence too because it allows for many wonderful characters interactions - like David running into his boss, Nash, with two beautiful woman. Wheeler and Misty do have fun together. Wheeler does have his amusing charms. But it's also very confounding when she gets back together with her jerk boyfriend in the end at Wheeler's expense. Is his pining after her going to be an ongoing story for the season? It was slightly hard to care about because the show just breezed past why the friendship between David and Wheeler is important. That may still come and the story was still fun and enjoyable. But like most of the show's story there is a little concern regarding how it will be able to maintain things in the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Gregory Jacobs & Joe Gangemi and directed by David Gordon Green.
  • So many shows have had some variation on the line - "A C is a (Insert Appropriate Designation) F." It has lost all of its originality.
  • Watching Getty get more and more frustrated every time he lost to David in a round of tennis was fantastic. Again, that frustration can only take the character so far but it was a hilarious introduction.
  • A lot is said about Nash's wife. He is this over-the-top character played wonderfully by Ennis Esmer. But how soon until his wife actually becomes a part of the story? Or will she just be a character frequently mentioned but never seen?
  • How soon until Karen takes Barry, the creepy guy who wants to take pictures of her, up on his offer? It will probably come if she gets more characterization in the future.
  • Nash: "Look I'm building up to something, okay? Don't betray my motivational speech."

As noted from previous series released all at once, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments section, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.