Things get screwy when David is asked to direct crude, dreadful camcorder porn.

By Joe McGovern
October 14, 2015 at 04:02 AM EDT

“Swingers,” a more literal title here than the Vince Vaughn/Jon Favreau movie, is a sibling to the Red Oaks episode “MDMA,” which also rested on a kitschy idea that’s funnier in concept than execution. Here, David is solicited by a forty-something couple at the country club to videotape them having sex. Of course, things get all screwy.

The episode starts out with a chaotic insight into Wheeler’s home life — the dog eating pancakes off the counter; shoeless brothers and sisters spilling milk; an moribund grandmother staring robotically at a portable television — but the moment is actually sweet. It’s a departure for the show to give any insight into the family of its secondary characters, yet this scene is well-warranted and lets us see Wheeler as a surrogate parent in his own family. More than the implausible relationship he develops with the statuesque lifeguard Misty, this moment characterizes him as so much more than just a sad sack in a bowtie.

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Getty and his wife (Gina Gershon, once again branded “Special Guest Star,” despite not really having much to do) discuss their daughter Skye with a mixture of frustration and surrender. “She and I used to be close,” says Getty, correcting himself: “Closer.” When Getty suggest that Skye has been pampered, his wife snaps, “Oh, please. She’s always been her own person. She is who she is. Don’t you remember day one in the hospital? They’re already calling her a diva.” (In a fine little moment a few scenes later, Skye comes upon her father sleeping in a lounge chair and removes his eyeglasses and walks away with his workbook.)

NEXT: David’s off to film a “private event”

How David finds himself filming a randy rich couple making whoopee, with Wheeler inexplicably working the boom mike, is a matter of sitcom contrivance. But the sex scene is funnier not for the carpet of brown hair on the gentleman porn star’s back or for the cat that keeps causing Wheeler to sneeze, but for the great mid-80s camcorder aesthetic. Movies and TV shows often ginger up the lighting and depth of its characters self-made videos — Red Oaks itself did so at the beginning of episode 3 — so director Nisha Ganatra (Transparent) deserves points for making the cutaways to the porn David is filming as crude, as dreadful as it really is.

Although he has minimal screen time, Richard Kind’s presence in “Swingers” is memorable. First we see him holed away in David’s bedroom, while his wife Judy is holding a study group downstairs. David informs Sam that he’s off to film a “private event” and Sam pleads, “Take me with you. I’m kidding, I’m kidding, I’m only kidding, I’m kidding. I’m not kidding. Get me out of here, David. I’ve got to leave this house.”

He doesn’t tag along, of course, but the episode ends with David arriving home late to find his dad sleeping on the couch. The sight crushes David’s heart. Something transpired between his parents while he was gone and he wasn’t there to glue the pieces together. The melancholy compels David to turn right around and sit by himself on the front steps. There are few things in life more honest than that feeling of helplessness. (And it stacks the deck for the pure bonkers scenario coming up for Sam and David next.)

’80s playlist includes the wonderfully chosen show-closer, “A Private Future,” from Love and Rockets’ 1985 album Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven.

Love and Rockets, “A Private Future”

.38 Special, “Back to Paradise”

Boz Scaggs, “Breakdown Dead Ahead”

Billy Squier, “My Kinda Lover”