Red Oaks Review: Amazon Comedy Mines the ’80s for Laughs, But Doesn’t Dig Deep Enough

With the premiere of "Red Oaks," Amazon is revealing a preoccupation with small-scale ideas teased out in extraordinary ways when it comes to its half hour series. "Transparent" is, at its core, a series about a family. "Mozart in the Jungle" is a workplace comedy, albeit one centered on a New York City symphony orchestra. "Red Oaks" is a coming-of-age comedy, but also a palimpsest of 1980s film tropes.

The latter is more successful than the former. There are increasingly diminishing returns when it comes to watching a 20-year-old navigate between the push of his own desires and the pull of others’ expectations, and David Myers is too passive and inert to root for.

What marks "Red Oaks" as something different is the way each episode toys with recognizable ’80s tics. One episode late in the series — the best of the batch — involves an impromptu nighttime trip to Manhattan, and the neon-infused, blue-shadowed all-nighter recalls everything from "After Hours" to "Modern Girls." Another — the worst of the batch — puts two characters in a "Freaky Friday" plot.

The series consistently aims at something deeper than most of those movies, but almost always shies away from getting too serious. A subplot about dealing drugs is quickly dropped without anything irrevocable happening; a series-long arc about a tennis match ends with a fizzle.

As wealthy father and daughter, Paul Reiser and Alexandra Socha are the standouts. Reiser, shedding any hints of nebbish that he might have retained from "Mad About You," redefines his career as the club president, all machismo and hard advice. And Socha, as his bored daughter tempting David to forget his sweet, determined aerobics instructor girlfriend, is marvelous.