Amazon’s third pilot season has arrived. The last pilot season saw four of the five pilots picked up to series, with only The Rebels failing to make the cut. Yet before any of them have begun to air (or stream) Amazon is already pushing ahead with a new batch of pilots.
Perhaps it’s a good idea that Amazon put out the new pilots before the season group was fed to the wolves. That way, these pilots can fail or succeed on their own merits without (potentially) having to carry the weight of Amazon’s streaming service on their shoulders.
First up is Red Oaks.
Period shows are currently en vogue. Mad Men, Master of Sex, Boardwalk Empire, and Downton Abbey all generate buzz and score nominations if not awards for their respective networks. ABC has even had success with it’s period comedy The Goldbergs, in that it’s still on the air.
Red Oaks follows down a similar path in that it’s an 1980’s set comedy. It’s set at the titular Red Oaks country club and it follows David a college student who is spending the summer as an assistant tennis pro for the club.
The episode starts with David and his father, played by Richard Kind, playing tennis as a father tries to impart fatherly wisdom to his son. Sam tells David that he needs to focus on school, which in turn will lead him into a safe career. And then Sam has a heart attack.
In the middle of the attack Sam confesses to David that he has tons of regrets. He regrets not marrying Soon Yi because he has a thing for “Orientals.” He regrets not living his life and he blurts out that David’s mom is at least bisexual if not completely lesbian. Sam survives the heart attack, but the experience has affected David.
Nash, the tennis pro at Red Oaks, explains to David how things work and the perks of the position. Wheeler, the weed dealing valet, is happy to see David working at Red Oaks. Of course the slightly oafish Wheeler lusts after the bodyguard’s girlfriend, who is completely out of his league.
David’s girlfriend Karen teaches aerobics at Red Oaks. In case you weren’t sure the show is set in the 1980’s, one look at Karen cements it. She’s bright colors and big crimped hair. She’s also fond of telling David her plans for their life together from next semester to buying their first house together.
Given David’s dad’s confessions, David is unsure what he want out of life, so when Karen talks out their future, he kind of zones out. Plus he’s really intrigued by the mystery girl at Red Oaks.
When a man named Getty asks David to play tennis, we get a montage of the tennis match, which results in Getty’s defeat. Of course Getty is actually the President of Red Oaks and wants David fired for throwing a few sets out of pity. Nash sets up a rematch.
There’s also a huge staff party on the golf course, which results in drinking, sex and nudity. Also Josh Meyers shows up, because, can you really have a show set in the 1980’s without Josh Meyers? The mystery girls’ identity is revealed in a twist you can see coming from a mile away.
Red Oaks is an average comedy. Apart from the nudity and language, it wouldn’t be out of place on NBC or FOX. It’s biggest strengths are Ennis Esmer as Nash and Oliver Cooper as Wheeler.
As Nash, Esmer exudes a smarmy confidence that’s utterly irresistible. He steals every scene he’s in and delivers lines with an arrogance that’s completely believable. He alone is worth watch this pilot.
Cooper plays Wheeler as a fully functional pothead. He’s not a burnout and he actually looks down on some of the other valets. His confidence is mostly a front, which makes him easy to root for.
Of course the lead character is Craig Roberts’ David. And it’s not fully Roberts’ fault, the writers give him nothing to work with. Granted, the character is in shock after witnessing his father’s heart attack, but the performance is pretty one-note. I don’t care about David and he’s usually the least interesting character in a scene.
Also, Red Oaks relies heavily on 1980’s music to score scenes. Perhaps it’s nostalgia fatigue, but it just felt empty.
While it wasn’t perfect, I hope Red Oaks is picked up, if only for the chance to get more Nash and Wheeler. And honestly, I’d feel the same way if it was only Nash, because the character is that strong. But beyond Nash and Wheeler, I could take it or leave it.