A bicycle pops a tire and a Ferrari in neutral gear rolls down a hill — both apt metaphors for the flat, idle nature of this episode of Red Oaks. There are more interesting developments to come, in the very next episode, in fact, but this one (like the previous episode, directed blandly by Andrew Fleming) is just wheel-spinning stuff.
“MDMA” opens with David giving himself a pep-talk in the bathroom mirror before stepping into Skye’s pool-house art studio in a white bathrobe. We already know from the pilot that her forte is male nudes. David nervously drops his robe and checks for Skye’s approval as her eyes drift downward. “Keep in mind it’s pretty cold,” he whispers, which is a funnier line once we realize that the scene is just a figment of David’s fantasy. Even in his dreams he’s neurotic and self-deprecating.
The main storyline of “MDMA” is about David’s preparation for a romantic evening for his girlfriend Karen’s birthday. He gets advice from his fellow teaching pro Nash. “Purchase these items in the following order: champagne, chocolate, strawberries, condoms. After a nice dinner, when the dessert menu comes, take her by the hand and tell her you have something special planned at the house. She’ll step one foot in the door and see the bubbly on ice and rose petals adorning the bed and spontaneously ovulate. Which is why you’ll need the condoms.”
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The episode’s title refers, of course, to the drug also known as ecstasy. And that’s what’s offered to David’s parents, Judy and Sam, by their marriage counselors (played by Anne O’Sullivan and character actor Richard Masur, veteran of ‘80s movies like The Thing, License to Drive and Shoot to Kill). The dialogue is a bit too winky when one of the therapists, referring to it as “empathy medicine,” says, “MDMA is used for therapy only. It’s perfectly legal, non-addictive, and never used recreationally.”
You can see where this is headed. After a disastrous dinner in a crowded restaurant, David brings Karen home — only to find his parents, stripped to their underwear, naturally, in a state of pure euphoric bliss. “You smell glorious,” Sam beams, pulling on Karen’s blond bangs. “Smell her hair!”
The parents-behaving-goofily-on-Molly scenario is played out for too-strenuous laughs. It becomes the easy, obvious reason for Karen to go home early on her birthday, mad at David. Though she doesn’t go home; she ends up detouring to the gallery opening for Barry, the unrealistically lecherous photographer who tells her that his photo of her has already sold. “Bought it myself,” he says. “Paid a pretty penny too.” The following day, he sends her a bouquet of long stem red roses, which dwarf David’s little yellow sunflowers that he contritely handed to Karen to apologize for his parents.
As for Judy and Sam, they woke up in their son’s bed and had to strut the walk of shame past him on the living room couch. David sat up and shook his head, disappointed at their bad judgment. You’d be right to feel the same about “MDMA.” Push this one aside, but perhaps the happy irony is that Red Oaks gets genuinely higher — and definitely more trippy — three episodes from now.
The ’80s playlist for this episode at least offers the best thing about it — a deliciously groovy synthpop classic by Robin Scott’s British band M. (Actually released in 1979, but who’s counting?)
M, “Woman Make Man”
Sheena Easton, “Strut”