Big curly hair, brightly coloured lycra and short tennis shorts – oh, the skimpy tennis shorts. Set in the 1980’s, Amazon Prime’s latest series Red Oaks follows our adolescent protagonist David (Craig Roberts) at his summer job. This retro comedy executively produced by Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh, quickly transforms into a potent cocktail, balancing the raunchy sex, the tender family drama tendencies – and one hell of a nostalgic soundtrack.
As every growing teenager does, David has to listen to his father’s endless lectures of important life choices, pushing him in virtually every direction. Yet David figures out pretty quickly that he is the only one that can make his life truly his own. Joining the prestigious Red Oaks Country Club as an assistant tennis pro during the holidays, his life is about to get a whole lot bumpier. Being mentored by notorious ladies’ man, Nash (Ennis Esmer) forced into training the arrogant club president Getty (Paul Reiser), all whilst deciding who he likes better; his current spandex wearing aerobic teaching girlfriend Karen (Gage Golightly) or the mysterious, penis sketching Skye (Alexandra Socha). Predominately playing on the classic ‘not knowing what you want yet out of life yet’ scenario, which is present in all characters we see on screen. Add another layer of dysfunctional families, and pot infused scenes and a distinct sense of melancholy emerges. Although what really brings Red Oaks to life is the deadpan, dry humour which is inescapable from the get go.
This binge worthy coming-of-age comedy holds its own, being a short snappy series made up of only 10 half hour episodes – though the overall premise feels somewhat underdeveloped. Portraying this very much from the eyes of a boy turning into a man, clearly outlined in the shows penultimate episode aptly named The Bar Mitzvah; the party aspect tends to seep in and dilute the umbrella of life lessons the underlying message is clearly trying to outline here. Life isn’t all fun and games and sometimes you have to face the music. Once the drug infused exchanges diminish, what we are left with is nothing we haven’t seen before.
Credit, where credit due; Ennis Esmer as tennis coach Nash is incredibly funny to watch. Not an episode goes by without him bringing his A-game to the sleazy, wannabee Country Club goer. On the flip-side Roberts as David seems to be floating through life and clearly trying to establish where he is going. At times enforcing such a theme becomes repetitive allowing our attention to waver and yearn for other parts of the narrative to seem more interesting. Even though David’s life is interesting enough to hold our attention, delving deeper into other characters would be beneficial to the show.
Standard clichés with an 80’s twist – Red Oaks offers many laughs and comical moments (and a vast array of impressive moustaches). This certainly has long-term potential and there are bundles of fun to be had – but don’t turn to this series in hope of receiving a slice of something unique and original.
Stream all episodes of Red Oaks exclusively on Amazon Video.