For a show perhaps best known for its short shorts and tennis courts, “Red Oaks” has always been about a race: It’s the pursuit of one’s dream vs. the crushing constrictions of time. It’s those fleeting years of adolescence, spent getting high and thinking higher vs. the life’s practicalities, the expectations of parents, and the varying opportunities dictated by privilege. It’s David vs. Goliath, and David’s got a shot at this thing.
This race, though, has largely been run. Entering its final season, “Red Oaks” is flying past the finish line, and viewers are treated to a leisurely cool down, waiting for the results even if they can probably guess ‘em. This extended epilogue isn’t particularly urgent, nor hysterically funny. But it remains galvanizing, as the honesty and maturity that made the series beloved by its small fandom persists, and those who’ve gone this far should take pleasure in seeing how things turn out for the dreamers, the boomers, and everyone looking for solace in this long, quick life of ours.
It’s not that this coming-of-age story has matured entirely. The leading lad of a sterling ensemble, David is played by Craig Roberts with the earnest drive of a clear-headed kid who knows what he wants, knows who can help him, and knows who’s getting in the way. He obsesses over film and wants to be a director. He falls in love with like-minded creatives and embraces what’s in front of him instead of waiting for things to fall into place. He wants to live a happy life, but more than that, he’s actively chasing it.
There’s an obvious and easy universality of Joe Gangemi and Gregory Jacobs’ character-driven comedy, and the first two seasons were filled with strife largely absent from its final six episodes. David agonized over what to do with his life, not knowing whether to trust his father, Sam (Richard Kind), a lifelong government employee reliant on reliability; his wealthy mentor figure Mr. Getty (Paul Reiser), a club pro who tries to recruit David into Wall Street’s suit-and-tie workforce; or himself, a kid with zero experience but a good heart.
It may seem odd to mention David as a decision maker in his own life, but “Red Oaks” distinguished between the three for good reason. David was never going to be one or the other, his father or Getty, because he’s a different breed. Sam is an old-school American clock-puncher; Getty is the boss who takes pride in superficial pleasures; David is the disruptor; the artist; the one who doesn’t fit into either mindset, but has an integral place in the grand scheme of things.
By never forcing a fight between the three men, “Red Oaks” explores the pros and cons of each path. What plagues Sam isn’t what bothers Getty, until it is, and David sees it all. Sure, the fathers and son argue from time to time — notably not in Season 3 — but the series is much more focused on bringing everyone together; of reaching a shared understanding over what we all want out of our time on Earth. In Season 1, it went so far as to throw in a body swap episode where David and Sam literally walked a few miles in each other’s shoes. In Season 2, Sam and Getty came together for a meaningful exchange at the doctor’s office. Generations were bridged as were classes, age, and creed.
With that in mind, it’s fitting that Season 3 is largely David’s independent journey. His parents visit from time to time, but he’s living in the city now, paying his own bills, making his own decisions, and working toward his own dream. Sam is focused on a new relationship and a passion project. Getty wants to get out of jail and save the country club (which might be bought out by a Japanese company). And David wants to be a director.
The charming supporting cast is up to familiar, low-key tricks, as well. Wheeler (Oliver Cooper) is struggling to see a future with Misty (Alexandra Turshen), who in turn is faced with unexpected roadblocks in her professional pursuits. Wheeler falls prey to societal expectations, believing he needs to lose weight and make money if he wants a beautiful, kind woman to stand by her man, while Misty faces an issue hidden from young eyes but all-too-familiar to adults: the patriarchy.
The romantic side of “Red Oaks” shines through as their sweet tale unfolds, which is doubly beneficial because David’s love life isn’t a strong focus. He strikes up a friendship with a woman at work, but there’s never an implication that David’s happiness depends on winning her over. Skye (Alexandra Socha), meanwhile, is largely absent. The daughter of Getty, and David’s first true love, is also doing her own thing in Season 3, but that means she’s not a regular part of the story. Socha’s ingenuity is missed, but watching the couple find futures absent of one another (presumably) is a fresh, welcome conclusion for a story that started with their first sparks.
Gangemi and Jacobs’ series may not go out with a bang, but it decidedly concludes on its own terms. David is out there slinging, and that’s about as much as any dreamer can ask.
“Red Oaks” Season 3 is streaming now, exclusively on Amazon Prime.