The inaugural season of RED OAKS was one of my favorite seasons of television in recent years. With a perfect blend of 80s nostalgia (I was born in the Year of the Rabbit), a coming of age theme, and smart depiction of life on the other side of the GWB (aka suburban New Jersey), I tore through Red Oaks season one in a handful of sittings. Amazon Prime’s half hour dramedy stars Craig Roberts as David Myers, an aspiring filmmaker who spends his summers working at Red Oaks Country Club in New Jersey in the mid 1980s. The tennis savant helps wealthy middle aged men and women with their serves in exchange for some extra cash. It doesn’t hurt that David is also at arms’ length from East Coast elite, which allows the show to dangle a different kind of future for David, who hails from distinctly Middle Class roots. That second part has always been an interesting element of Red Oaks, a show that has always been smart about class in a way that many shows are not.
Season two picks up pretty much where season one left off. David’s love, Skye Getty (Alexandra Socha), leaves for Paris and a lovestruck David quits his Bergen County bubble and chases her all the way to the City of Light. Episode one feels like a dream. David and Skye trapse through Paris’ arrondissments, going to art galleries and watching films. One day, as Skye is drawing David in the buff, her parents storm in and burst their bubble. Prominent Wall Steeter and Red Oaks Prez Doug Getty immediately lays down the law with David, who’s kicked out of Skye’s swank apartment and is forced to live with Skye’s sexually liberated French friends.
The relationship between Doug and David has always been Red Oaks’ most fascinating pairing. It’s certainly more meaty than the relationship that David has with his accountant father Sam, or his best friend, loveable slacker hero Wheeler. Within the Doug and David dynamic, Red Oaks is able to say the most about class. Consider, for instance, the unraveling of Doug’s life as he’s charged with insider trading with a young and politically ambitious Rudy Giuliani (see, Red Oaks is timely, too) at his heels. Doug continues to keep up appearances, once again offering David a gig at his firm, even as lawyers make a frenzied effort to keep Doug from doing time. Beyond his bark, though, Doug has always been fragile and so while it’s clear to us that David is not cut from Wall Street cloth, perhaps Doug is worried that David declines the opportunity because he’s lost his mojo.
After a stint in Paris, the show flashes forward to another summer at Red Oaks in New Jersey, where the rest of the season takes place. We revisit Wheeler, who’s still in love with beautiful lifeguard and aspiring nurse Misty. The slacker nerd Wheeler continues to chase after Misty, and the two finally become more than friends this season. The relationship is not without its road bumps, though, like when Wheeler starts an SAT tutoring operation and one of his underage students falls in love with him. Poor Wheeler gets beaten up by a high school jock.
This season of Red Oaks smartly digs deeper into some of the adult character’s relationships too in a way that’s reminiscent of say, The Wonder Years. David’s father, in the wake of his divorce, struggles to get back out onto the dating scene. He loses his beloved cat, and eventually finds partnership with an equally awkward neighbor. David’s mother, meanwhile, explores a relationship with a female standup comic, but ultimately realizes she’s happier, at least for the time being, alone. Then there’s Nash, David’s tennis instructor boss of sorts at Red Oaks, who falls hard for an older Jewish woman and then ends up having his heart broken when she leaves him for a Rabbi.
Red Oaks has always been driven more by its characters than its plot, and season two holds with this loose structure. Still, the show wisely gives us a few guideposts and ticking time bombs to keep the tension building. There’s Doug Getty’s impending trial, as well as David’s ex’s wedding, which promises to bookend the season.
As for David and Skye, the highs and lows of their relationship also keep things engaging, and in season two, their lows feel more real. Skye isn’t just the fleeting artist from last season, but also someone who is truly different than David in a number of ways. David and Skye both love the arts, but Skye is cut from wealthy cloth and has more room for error. For instance, David’s trip to Paris and NYU deferrment causes him to lose his spot at the prestigious film program. Skye, meanwhile, is able to live abroad and at home, exploring her passions without having to worry about the bills.
Going back to David and Doug, another thing that’s interesting about their relationship is that at times David becomes Doug’s eyes and ears as it relates to Skye. Doug winces, for instance, when he finds out from David that Skye is living in Hells Kitchen, a Manhattan neighborhood known for its 1980s seediness. Later, though, when Doug is convicted of insider trading, Skye is there to comfort her father in part because of David’s urging.
Ultimately, though, Red Oaks’ sophomore season is a bit less focused than season one, and doesn’t provide the same amount of laughs. It’s also odd that best friends David and Wheeler are still often at a distance from each other, with not much screentime dedicted to the deepening of their friendship.
Ade Adeniji | Contributor