A New Series Looks Back at the Time of VHS and Mixtapes, Now Available Exclusively Online


Combine The Graduate,  Fast Times at Ridgemont High and add an extra splash of the ’80s, and you’ll start to get an idea of what Amazon Studio’s new show Red Oaks is about.

The 10-episode season officially became available to binge-watch on Amazon Prime on Oct. 9, featuring an all-star Jewish cast that includes Jennifer Grey, Richard Kind and Paul Reiser. The show  follows college student David, played by Craig Roberts, as he tries to figure out what he really wants out of life, while working at the prestigious Red Oaks Country Club during a summer in the 1980s.
Kind, who is known for his roles in Mad About You and Spin City, to name a few, plays Sam, David’s father, who, he said, actually resembles his own father.
Kind said he was raised on this same sort of pressure to succeed financially from his father, the same way Sam comically tells David that a “ ‘C’ is a Jewish ‘F,’ ” and “there are a lot of wealthy people who are gonna remember you when they need someone to do their taxes.”
In the show, David comes into his own as he begins to make his own life choices, discontented as he is with his predetermined future in accounting.
“I was a country club kid from Bucks County, and my friends were all lawyers. Very few of them went into the arts, and that’s sort of important to the way that I grew up,” Kind said.
“But I was like everybody else, as is David, and then all of a sudden his likes and dislikes as a young man come into play. He was all ready to do what was assigned to him. You grow, get good grades in high school, then you go to college and then you go to grad school, and you go and you have two-and-a-half kids. That’s what I was raised to do, and yet I changed. So I’m very much like David.”
Kind said he doesn’t think of his character as particularly Jewish, but it’s just a way in which he approaches the character, which he described as “loud and East Coast.”
But Kind said Red Oaks has a little something for everyone to enjoy: Young people can relate to the characters, people over 28 will feel reminiscent of their youth and people in their 40s will agree that the characters exactly captured their lives, he joked.
Kind added that there is a sort of purity working with Amazon, where the people in charge are given more creative freedom, and that the show sets the scene and vibe of the era very well.
“It evokes a time and a feeling and a place that is neither sad nor extremely happy. Funny things go on, but the funny things come out of a situation and not because the lines are jokes and are funny,” he said. “These people get involved in things that we all can relate to.”
Joe Gangemi, Red Oaks co-creator and executive producer, wanted to create a show that was more universally appealing rather than catering to one specific audience.
He was actually raised as an Italian Catholic in Wilmington, Del., and the suburbs of Philadelphia, but he said he relates very closely to how his Jewish friends were raised.
“From the Jewish side of things, being raised an Italian-Catholic kid, it’s funny how I find more in common with the upbringing of my Jewish friends,” he said.
The cultures are similar, having endearing great-grandmothers, lots of food and time spent sitting around the kitchen table.
“That all feels very familiar to me, and that wasn’t difficult to do,” he said.
With the combination of the adolescences of co-creator Greg Jacobs and Gangemi, their youth seeped into the storytelling.
The show is loosely based on what the two grew up on in the 1980s: the country club social scene, working in video stores and restaurant kitchens, and experiencing first romantic relationships.
“Television allows you to be more expansive in your storytelling. You don’t have to cram everything down to an hour and 45 minutes,” Gangemi said. “You don’t have to keep it so plot-focused. You can really let the story and the characters breathe.”
Nostalgia is just a small part of the storytelling. Gangemi said he wanted to create a comedy that had the same feel as some of his favorite ’80s movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and John Hughes’ films — movies that were funny but had a lot of heart, sincerity and truth to their characters.
“It’s not about the ’80s. The ’80s is sort of just the setting. We wanted it to be a little more timeless and hope that 20-year-olds now can watch it and say, ‘Oh, I see myself in these life questions and issues,’” he said.
While Judaism is a central part of the show’s cultural background, the only Yiddish spoken in the show is by a Turkish character, which, Gangemi said, was intentional.
Reiser even taught Gangemi a few obscure phrases in between filming. In fact, the whole cast and crew got along very well.
“We’re hanging out in country clubs in the summertime with a bunch of nice people, all of whom are really ridiculously funny. When we weren’t shooting, they were just cracking up the crew,” Gangemi said.
Kind added that he thinks this show works on many comedic and dramatic levels because when it comes down to it, a good story is a good story.
“Life is neither a comedy or a tragedy. I think it’s just somewhere in between. And if you’re lucky, the laughs come a little more often than the tragedy,” he said.
Contact: rkurland@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0737


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