Episode 8 ended with David smiling as a girl who wasn’t his girlfriend slept with her head on his shoulder. And thus, episode 9 begins on the other end of that spectrum, with David’s girlfriend, Karen, getting bad news from her friend Kimberly at the country club. “Heather saw David the other night on the Red and Tan bus headed into the city with some girl,” Kimberly says, referencing the Coach bus line that’s still a popular and affordable transportation option from Bergen County, N.J., into New York City. Karen closes her work locker, pausing just a beat to acknowledge the photo of David on the inside door.
All of Red Oaks’ episode titles are short and straight to the point, so it goes without saying that a Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish celebration of manhood in a child’s thirteenth year, is the focus here. David has been tasked to film the occasion as part of his apprenticeship with pornstache Barry and has also invited his parents to come to Red Oaks for the first time. Virtually all of the principal and secondary characters of the show are in the same room, which in this case is a tacky banquet hall with a baseball theme.
Tension runs high on several different fronts: between David and Karen, who forced him to admit that he went into the city with Skye; between David and Barry, whose exaggerated bluster is ripe for a punching; between Getty and Nash, who’s blabbing about how much money he’s made from an illegal stock tip; between David and Skye, who passes wordlessly in the club lobby as Getty introduces David to her “fella”; and in a beautifully resigned way, between Judy and Sam, David’s parents, who’ve entered the tragic place in their marriage where even the fighting has all dried up. And igniting the episode’s well-calibrated counterprogram comic subplot is Wheeler, sweating and swearing as he keeps losing a precious Sony Walkman filled with $10,000 worth of cocaine. (A vintage ’80s news report during the end credits provides the dark, amusing capper to Wheeler’s Walkman saga.)
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The episode’s gentlest moment comes during a slow dance between David’s parents at the Bar Mitzvah. After discussing David (“He’s always been so sensitive,” Judy says), they turn the topic toward themselves.
Sam: Can I ask you a question?
Sam: When did you stop loving me?
Judy: Never. I still love you. I will always love you.
Sam: You’re not happy being married to me.
Judy: What about you, are you happy?
Sam: Happy? I’m happy if I look at the obituary page and I’m not listed.
Performed with grace and understatement by Jennifer Grey and Richard Kind, the scene is the episode’s high point. Kudos to director Nisha Ganatra, who also helmed episode 6 (“Swingers”), but she points all arrows at the obvious as the conclusion nears. We’ve known that Barry was going to eventually get what’s coming to him since the pilot. After an argument heats up with David, Barry shows him naked photos of Karen — interestingly, none are actually naked, although she was seen liberally topless in the pilot — and David smacks him, toppling the photographer into the big, green Mazel Tov cake. Apart from the poor choreography, the moment reeks of pre-determination.
It’s not the fault of actor Josh Meyers, but the Barry character has been a completely implausible d-bag marionette all along, existing essentially just to force this dramatic crisis. It is quite funny, though, that Sam, while scolding David during the car ride home, says, “Forget that you lose your job with the club — if that schmuck with the mustache presses charges, NYU could cut your financial aid.” Even in anger, Sam knows what’s what.
Master Jay and Michael Dee, “T.S.O.B.”