Episode 3: “Father’s Day”
Nash gets the spotlight treatment in the opening scene of episode 3, as we watch the rotund tennis pro during his forlorn morning routine in his drab Jersey apartment. Nash is quite the sad sack — look for the poignant detail of his jigsaw piece on a sailboat puzzle, which doesn’t fit — but credit to Turkish-Canadian actor Ennis Esmer, who’s created an endearing Falstaffian character with Nash. Esmer is the veteran of lots of TV, including Blindspot, and it’s worth watching him interviewed (like here) just to see the difference between himself and the strange man he plays.
Later, Nash is also seen wooing the Jewish widow (Jessica Hecht) who we saw in episode 2 informing Getty that the club board wanted him out of the presidency. The Nash scenes are highlights of a somewhat disposable episode, featuring a we-know-where-this-is-going subplot about Wheeler turning into a SAT tutor and a rote scene of David and Skye being interrupted by David’s dad, Sam, while they’re getting busy on his couch.
We catch a glimpse of Getty’s tennis nemesis Stan Feinberg, played by former player, onetime coach of Andre Agassi and Any Murray, and Trump-caliber Twitter addict Brad Gilbert. And also another friendly face from the first season pops up: Gail (Ann Carr), the yoga instructor who David’s mom, Judy, had shared romantic chemistry with the summer before. To Judy’s obvious disappointment, Gail is pregnant — yet this subplot also has the feeling of going somewhere, perhaps predictably, yet more than worth it for Jennifer Grey’s nuanced performance as a suburban woman born again.
Sam closes out the episode with a nostalgia-squared situation, watching old 8mm home movies as Billy Joel’s “I’ve Loved These Days” blasts in the background. That’s maybe a bit too on the nose, even for the eternally lovable Richard Kind.
And one other pet peeve, which Red Oaks is surely not the first program to commit. Skye, having just returned from Paris, is depicted as a compulsive cigarette smoker, so much that her father lectures her on the dirtiness of the habit. However, talented as actress Alexandra Socha is in the part, the character is so obviously stunt smoking (and very poorly) that it calls into question why that even needs to be a plot point. No one doubts that smoking is a bad for your health — but faking it so visibly is bad for a TV show.
Episode grade: B-
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Episode 4: “The Bris”
All hail Amy Heckerling!! The forever unsung director of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless helmed one of last season’s high points in comedy and imagination (“Body Swap”) and now she’s back for this episode and the next one, both little gems in the series run.
Take a tiny moment from near the end of the episode to appreciate. Sam is waiting at a bar for his blind date to arrive. He orders some poppers and cajoles the bartender to give them to him for half-price. His date arrives and spots Sam while he’s clumsily lunging for more ketchup. She smiles wistfully and instinctively turns around and leaves the restaurant before he’s seen her.
The scene is not played for laughs. If you want to feel superior to a guy like Sam, there are plenty of other TV show — plus social media — for you to look at. The creators of Red Oaks and Heckerling have a humongous heart for the gawky old buffoon. And Richard Kind’s performance turns even more poignant when Sam drinks too much and ends up humiliating himself on the karaoke mic. And if that wasn’t tender enough, Sam also acquires a cat from David’s ex Karen. Shades of John Turturro in HBO’s The Night Of, perhaps?
Elsewhere, the episode is terrific for also revealing flyaway bits of information about other easy-to-stereotype characters. Fay Getty (Gina Gershon) makes a quick reference to “my waitressing days” while telling her husband that it’s his opposition to David that makes the boy more desirable in Skye’s eyes.
This leads to a formal lunch between Getty and David in New York City and a tour of Getty’s office, where he reveals to David his fear of heights. The fascinating tension in David and Getty’s surrogate father/son relationship has always been the show’s strongest thread. If anything, Red Oaks shouldn’t have waited until episode 4 to explore it.
And of course there’s the bris of the title. You don’t have to ask Heckerling twice if she’d love to show the penile circumcision ceremony in almost graphic detail on the show, complete will razor blade sound effects to die for. Notice the nice touch of ’80s TV star Mark Linn-Baker (Perfect Strangers) as the scalpel-wielding mohel. And on the point of ’80s callbacks, credit to the show’s creators Joe Gangemi and Gregory Jacobs (The Colbert Report’s Max Werner co-wrote this episode) for making the references pop.
Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters gets a shout-out, so does the Robert Redford/Debra Winger totally-’80s film Legal Eagles — which actually did open in theaters in the same week as Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court, a news story mentioned a bit warily by Getty. And the episode ends with the sadly optimistic strains of Glenn Cambell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” (Sam’s karaoke song of choice) and a mention of the ice cream and food chain Friendly’s — which much like this episode, warms the heart.
Episode grade: A
NEXT: Episodes 5 and 6