Last week, Amazon Studios began its third pilot season, releasing the first episodes of three prospective comedy series and two prospective dramas. The A.V. Club has taken a look at all five pilots (you can watch them all and vote for your favorites here), and we’ll be presenting our thoughts on the shows today and tomorrow. Up first, a snobs-versus-slobs sitcom directed by David Gordon Green, Whit Stillman’s entrée into series television (not counting his episode of Homicide: Life On The Street), and the latest from Broken Lizard’s Jay Chandrasekhar.

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Red Oaks

You could never make a TV version of Caddyshack within the confines of network television; when the Big Three networks each tried to make Animal House without the booze, swearing, or nudity, the results were as flaccid as Greg Marmalard. It’s fitting, then, that the pilot of Amazon’s quasi-Caddyshack comedy Red Oaks is directed by a guy who’s come close to channeling the classic raunch-fests of the 1980s through a premium-cable lens: Eastbound & Down directing producer David Gordon Green. (The show was created by Gregory Jacobs and Joe Gangemi, who executive produce alongside Green and Steven Soderbergh.) A VHS junkie of the highest order, Green helms this introduction to Red Oaks with considerable panache: The filmmaking crisply conducts a parade of outsized characters (and outdated fashions) through the pro shops and swimming pools of Red Oaks Country Club, yet there’s still the feeling that the camera is merely catching the slobs in their natural, snob-bankrolled habitat.

The entry point to this habitat is assistant tennis pro Craig Roberts (best known from Richard Ayoade’s Submarine), home from NYU for the summer and straddling the lines between adolescence and adulthood and between Red Oaks members and Red Oaks staffers. Craig has a Ty Webb in the form of skeezy boss Nash (Ennis Esmer), a hybrid Judge Smalls/Al Czervik in club president Getty (Paul Reiser, continuing the 2014 rebound he started with FX’s Married), and a well-manicured, lived-in workplace that the pilot breathes in and out like so much marijuana smoke. It’s about time someone tried to stretch the “one crazy summers”s of the ’80s to a runtime longer than 120 minutes; if it follows the template of this ace of a pilot, Red Oaks might have three or four such summers in it. Grade: A- [EA]

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Red Oaks
Created by:
Gregory Jacobs and Joe Gangemi
Starring: Craig Roberts, Paul Reiser, Jennifer Grey, Richard Kind, Oliver Cooper
Format: Half-hour single-camera sitcom

The Cosmopolitans

Light and bright and charming, The Cosmopolitans tells the story of a group of young expatriates in Paris who are basically all trying to get laid, though they might not cop to it if asked directly. Maybe some would say “looking for romance,” and others would say “want to settle down.” But it’s still about sex all the same, in a biting, cool, sarcastic kind of way. This is all par for the course for writer-director Whit Stillman, who made his bones in the ’90s with witty, mannered films about the sexual politics of the elite—most notably, The Last Days Of Disco. His style borrows from Woody Allen’s obsession with the sexual politics of heterosexual coupling and Bret Easton Ellis’ bitter disdain for compassion—none of these people trying to get laid are particularly nice or polite or even friendly. Stillman is interested in the fundamental isolation of his characters who are purportedly searching for intimacy: The staccato dialogue between the characters is less conversation than several self-absorbed people talking to themselves, and Stillman reinforces that with framing that depicts the characters seated together but not making eye contact, lost in their own worlds.

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In the opening episode of The Cosmopolitans, all that happens is that several characters go to a party: A few Americans, a German man, an Italian man, a Canadian, and maybe a Brit or two. Along the way they all share a few tidbits about themselves—broken hearts, failed attempts, and very tiny studio apartments. The Cosmopolitans is filmed and shot beautifully (on location in Paris) and even the color saturation is charming and picturesque. The only problem is that this type of dramedy of manners has been done many times before—and in Paris, no less, a few years ago by Allen. Stillman’s new show offers a predictable art-flick atmosphere with the usual suspects of the very wealthy (and very tiresome) upper crust. Self-awareness is not this show’s strong suit—and novelty isn’t, either. Grade: B+ [SS]

The Cosmopolitans
Created by:
Whit Stillman
Starring:
Adam Brody, Chloë Sevigny, Carrie MacLemore, Dree Hemingway, Freddy Åsblom
Format: Half-hour single-camera sitcom

Really

Outside of his efforts with the Broken Lizard comedy troupe—the guys behind Super Troopers, Beerfest, and Club Dread—Jay Chandrasekhar has established himself as a go-to single-camera man, directing episodes of Arrested Development, Community, Happy Endings, and the like. Centering on a group of smart-ass friends in Chicago, Chandrasekhar’s Really pilot bears superficial similarities to the third of those shows, but the real model here is Parenthood—only with more dick jokes. (As Chandrasekhar’s wife, Sarah Chalke even aspires to arrange her garbage cans like the Bravermans.) With that in mind, you can forgive the slow simmer of the show’s pilot, which doesn’t establish the world inhabited by Jed (Chandrasekhar) and Lori (Chalke) as much as it plays fly-on-the-wall during dinner with kids, awkward sex, and a party gone awry. The remainder of the cast is filled out by recognizable faces (Selma Blair, Rob Delaney) and single-cam ringers (Hayes MacArthur, Luka Jones, Lindsay Sloane), but this is very squarely Chandrasekhar’s show, marked by the loose pacing and bawdy humor of his big-screen work. Some of the bantering dialogue doesn’t land in the pilot, but there are ideas within Really that could work down the line. (And they’re ideas whose time has apparently come, given FX premiered the aforementioned, similarly themed Married earlier this summer.) But as a low-fuss sitcom about having to wear an eye mask, mouth guard, and ear plugs in order to share a bed with the one you love, Really could really turn out to be something—really. Grade: B- [EA]

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Really
Created by: Jay Chandrasekhar
Starring: Jay Chandrasekhar, Sarah Chalke, Selma Blair, Luka Jones, Lindsay Sloane
Format: Half-hour single-camera sitcom