Why ‘Red Oaks’ is as great of a show now as it ever was



Some television shows manage to climb over the rigorous test of time. “Red Oaks” is one of those shows, a slipped-under-the-cracks-of-our-attention Amazon Prime show that debuted back in 2014 and ran for three seasons.

True story. I only ran across this show because I have good hearing. As I did the dishes one night, I overheard a familiar-sounding setup for a television series. A very Jewish country club with personalities of all kinds, each plucked from a different spot on the financial societal food chain. So I walked to the living room and nearly forgot the water was running as I laughed and found myself interested in watching more. Five minutes later, the water was turned off.

Think about it. Missing a show isn’t hard work during these fast-moving times. A show starring Craig Roberts, an unknown actor at the time, is definitely one to sink under the radar for a good period of time. But due to the streaming networks picking up constant steam and producing countless shows, these are the (somewhat) oldies that get brandished on the homepage on occasion.

I’m thankful for it. Joe Gangemi and Gregory Jacobs created a show that touches the heart and funny bone in equal measure while tickling the fancy of many age groups.


Paul Reiser fans won’t be disappointed. As the arrogant yet honest Club President who tags Roberts’ David Meyers, a teenage tennis pro, to be his trainer, the versatile actor delivers zingers for laughs and can still hit the sentimental gravitas notes like a pro. You’re not sure if you love or hate Reiser’s Doug Getty, a rich man with a few skeletons in his closet-but the actor keeps you guessing. Talk about endurance. Reiser is all over the place, making 2021 seem like a rerun of a 1990’s story.

Roberts is no slouch in the lead role. He looks like the Jewish Tom Holland, a wounded romantic who only has eyes for his boss’ daughter, Skye (Alexandra Socha), even though he’s the hot girl in town’s (Gage Golightly) boyfriend already. In this world, the hot girl has layers and a backbone. Golightly gives Karen something extra in her portrayal, something that can also be said for Ennis Esmer’s Nash Nasser.

As the older tennis pro at the club-one who holds grudges with golf pros and can woo just about female soul on the premises-Esmer represented the story at its heartbreaking yet sincere best. I appreciated the vulnerability that he brought to the role. He’s the epitome of a lothario with a heart who isn’t worried about where he’s going–only that the ride he is on doesn’t come to a halt anytime soon.

I love the relationship between David and his dad, Sam, who is played by the always-good Richard Kind. The pilot episode opens with the father and son playing tennis in a patient yet still-vigorous fashion. The director of the episode wisely keeps the camera angles on the two feet of the men as they strike the ball back and forth.

The short tennis match sequence could stand as a symbol for what the series aims to achieve, or its main point of view: a young man who loves his father very much, yet doesn’t want to become him either. David is interested in everything but the family accounting business. Kind doesn’t get this much meat on the bone in most of his roles, so it’s good to see him play a dad playing a game that was fixed at birth.

“Red Oaks” makes old stories seem new with the right dash of humor and sharp writing that allows the jokes to run long and turn into intriguing storylines that keep an audience engaged for an entire evening. Instead of being overly sentimental and sappy, the series always goes for dry yet easy-to-love comedy.

Take that early scene of nice tennis. Sam suffers a heart attack near the end, and David rushes to his side. Now, most shows would pour an extra helping of make-believe pancake syrup over the scene, losing it in thousands of other previous stories that never took flight. Not “Red Oaks.” Out of nowhere, the father starts unloading all these wild truths to his son, as if a truth serum dart struck him in the chest. Kind’s patriarch is in unthinkable pain, yet starts telling David that his parents would have split a long time ago if it weren’t for him. He tells him his mother may be bisexual. It’s hysterical and remains light.

Spoiler: Sam Meyers lives. But that’s how the dialogue and writing rolls here. I don’t think a Jewish fan of entertainment can find a better or more accurate depiction of the end of innocence-not only for the young protagonist, but for the older, restless souls who will finally be forced to be more like their older selves-that strikes so many families, Yiddish-savvy or not. Don’t forget about Oliver Cooper’s ambitious parking attendant and resident prankster, Wheeler. Or the extra hammy photographer (Josh Meyers).

Few television shows can make you laugh and feel often during a single episode. “Red Oaks” does that. If anything, it reminds you Jennifer Grey is a lot more than just a “Dirty Dancing” side piece. As David’s mother, she’s terrific and a tad wild.

There’s only three seasons and 26 episodes to find and cherish here. I wouldn’t overload your week with a 60-hour journey carrying no true promise of love blossoming. This one is short yet sweet. Watch it with your father, mother, sister, or trusted friend. Laughs will sneak up on you and interest will not wane. Surprises will abound.

“Red Oaks” is proof that great shows age gracefully. The themes seem eternal, the performances ring true, and the next season becomes the next conquest.

You have your orders. Thank me later.