Okay, so I know I ragged on Netflix the other day, but honestly I do love them. They’ve helped me cut the cable cord and for that I’ll always be immensely grateful. But lately, I’ve been trying to give Amazon’s original programing a chance too. I really enjoyed Transparent, so I thought I would give Red Oaks a whirl.
Red Oaks is a coming-of-age summer tale about a suburban college kid. It’s a story you’ve heard 200 times before, but the characters are intriguing and the writing is pretty funny. Jennifer Grey is in it and I’ll love her forever even with her new weird-nose. Also, this show is pretty. The clothes have fantastic colors and the hair is fun. They even have one character with a Molly Ringwald cut (but she throws more of an Ally Sheedy vibe). Suffice it to say, it’s not all big perms.
While I think you should check the whole-thing out, the 7th episode of the season really sings to me. And while it’s not a bottle episode, it does stand a bit alone from the rest of the series so I think I can share it with you without too many spoilers.
David (played by Craig Roberts who I’ve only ever seen in this show) is with his family at one of those Benihana type restaurants, celebrating his father’s birthday. (Dad is played by Richard Kind, who you’ve probably seen in literally everything but most recently Inside Out where he made everyone cry in his riveting performance as Bing-Bong). Things get weird when the sample some Asian liquor.
Pretty earlier on in the series (like first 10 minutes) we learn that David’s parents are in a loveless marriage, and it quickly becomes apparent that many of David’s current decisions are based not wanting his parents’ future. So when I read the episode description for “Body Swap” and realized that David and his father would literally be swapping bodies, I rolled my eyes. Come on! We’ve seen this so many times since the original (and amazing) Freaky Friday. The 80’s were full of lame body/brain switching: Like Father Like Son, Vice Versa, 18 Again, and even to some-extent Dream a Little Dream and Big.
But then I realized that this over-inundation of fish-out-of-water films is exactly why this show decided to step outside of their standard-fare. It doesn’t get more meta than literally transforming into the type of dramady popular in the time period of your show within the context of your show. It’s kind of like, well maybe there were so many of these movies in the 80’s because this was a real problem.
Or for those of you who don’t want to read so deeply into meta-think, this is a really great pastiche. This body-swap isn’t played for laughs…at least not anymore-so than the natural humor this situation creates for the viewer. This isn’t a gimmick and in some ways it gets more real than any of those 80’s movies ever could have. The major conflict of the episode turns out to be that David’s parents’ marriage therapists have instructed them to “Go home. Turn off the TV. Pour some wine. Light a scented candle. And make beautiful, sweet love.” Ick. So that’s the worst possible thing I can imaging happening in a body-swap situation.
So David and his dad are left scrambling to track down a bottle of the weird Japanese liquor made of “humpback” that they drank the night before swapping bodies. Of course, they gain a greater understanding of one-another along they way. (And right when they gain that understanding, the man who originally gave them the liquor mysteriously appears again…)
In 25-minutes Red Oaks fully steps into an 80’s movie trope without sabotaging the original narrative it is establishing for itself. With all of these new quirky, yet heartfelt comedy-dramas, it’s hard to determine what will be a cool show and what will try too hard (looking at you, Scream Queens). But effectively pulling off a pastiche to an entire sub-genre of films is a pretty good sign. It means the writers are more self aware of their show, their context, and their viewers than the first few episodes could demonstrate. And that’s a really, really good sign.
P.S. this episode was directed by Amy Heckerling, so I don’t know how to any further convince you of it’s excellence.