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‘Red Oaks,’ Amazon’s nostalgic and underrated comedy, ends on a hopeful note
If season 3 offers nothing else, viewers can at least walk away feeling like anything is possible.
Amazon Prime’s retro coming-of-age comedy Red Oaks ended in quiet foreclosure this month. During its three-season run the cheeky series crafted a small but enamored fandom.
The show follows college student David Meyer embarking on his dreams of becoming a film director, after working as an assistant tennis pro at the Red Oaks country club. Craig Roberts stars as Meyer, bringing an earnest charm to a young man stuck in the rat race, but also trying make work that is meaningful to him. The show takes on the leanings of a drama at times, through the solid ensemble of characters who leave their own individual marks on David—those include welcome turns from ’80s icons Paul Reiser and Jennifer Grey, and veteran TV actor Richard Kind.
The toed line between comedy and drama uplifts an insipid ’80s nostalgia trip, finding a winsome story about chasing after your dreams. Its main shortcoming is that this story has been done countless times, but it’s intriguing enough to binge now that you can stream the entire arc in one weekend.
It’s also very white and male-centric, which may turn some viewers off. But the show carefully broaches interracial friendships and relationships in a realistic, non-stereotyped manner.
In the previous seasons, David fretted extensively over his future, torn between his father’s insistence on a stable job and his wealthy boss who pushed for him to make it on Wall Street. In season 3, we find David choosing his own path, landing a gig at a video production company. It offers more challenges than opportunities that lead to a moment of realization, a recurrent theme where we see the characters discovering that the greatest hindrance in life is often ourselves.
In the background, the ensemble goes through a fair share of ups and downs.
Oliver Cooper returns as Wheeler, who is now a reformed weedhead trying to do better in college after basically being a slacker the last two seasons. Their friendship becomes strained from the pressure David is facing at work on top of his shifting relationship with his parents. In the same vein, Wheeler battles over his conflicted feelings for his out-of-his-league girlfriend—working under an equally attractive dentist—and a strange arrangement with his professor that almost ends their relationship. The final season doesn’t rely on fanfare or over-the-top shenanigans to deliver its humor, relying on the personality of the characters and their situations to prompt laughter.
The cinematography is beautifully shot but is bogged down the show’s second shortcoming: its cliche dialogue. The magnetic Ennis Esmer delivers most of the best quips.
Creators Joe Gangemi and Gregory Jacobs successfully conclude everyone’s arcs, and land at hopeful places.
The comedy isn’t of the raucous sort that has you up out your seat laughing, nor is it overly snarky or crass like much of today’s competing binge series. The comedic elements are toned down to focus more on the overarching story of chasing after your dreams. It’s cheeky at times and lethargic in others but it doesn’t lose the feel-good vibe this slice-of-life comedy has become known for.
Ultimately, if you don’t already have an Amazon Prime subscription then I wouldn’t prioritize shelling out money unless you absolutely love ’80s-set programming. But Red Oaks ends on a modest note that leaves you yearning for simpler days before the woes of the world got to you.
Still not sure what to watch on Amazon? Here are the best Amazon originals, the best documentaries on Amazon Prime, what’s new on Amazon, the best movies you can watch in stunning 4K Ultra HD, and the sexiest movies you can stream right now.
Danielle Ransom is a journalist who has worked as a researcher for CNN, NBC's KXAN-TV, CBS' KEYE-TV.