Red Oaks, one of the new Amazon Studios pilots now available to watch, is executive produced by Steven Soderbergh, but it’s certainly nothing like his current airing television project, the dark early-20th-century medical drama The Knick. Though Red Oaks could sound like a similarly bloody affair, Soderbergh’s never been one to stick to a genre, and the show is a small scale comedy named for a country club in New Jersey where the hero, David, gets a gig as a tennis pro one summer in the ’80s. There’s potential within Red Oaks if Amazon does decide to pick it up—nothing about it is really bad—but it needs to hone in on its most compelling elements.
David, played by Craig Roberts, gets his job at the club as a way of avoiding working for his father Sam (Richard Kind). The pilot opens on David hitting balls with Sam, who berates him for not applying himself. “A C is a Jewish F,” Sam tells him. Sam wants his son to be an accountant, but of course David does better in his class about cinema of the French New Wave. It’s a familiar parent-child conflict, and David’s disillusionment with his parents will grow mere seconds later when his father appears to be suffering a heart attack and confesses that he never loved David’s mother, who he thinks is a lesbian “or at least technically bisexual.” (David’s mother is played by Jennifer Grey, whose mere presence in a country club-set project conjures images of Dirty Dancing. There are no Johnny Castle’s here though.) Sam lives, but thus begins David’s summer of questioning what he wants out of life.