We reach the end of Red Oaks’ run, an enjoyable show that was good but not great in part because it is capped off with a finale so very painfully on the nose. It’s all over David’s final conversation with Herb, who once again reiterates that David should not be a bean counter. We get it. Accounting is not the path for David. He wants more out of life. Shouldn’t he be able to make the decision for himself at some point, rather than have someone else constantly tell him? Red Oaks’ greatest asset was that it paid tribute to the films of the ’80s but swerved just enough so that it felt like something different, usually by exploring the sadness behind the hijinks and scrapes. Sam and Judy may fight but they aren’t just these bickering Jewish parents, the have real issues. Nash may be a kiss ass, but there’s this desire to join a class he’s not apart of, and never will be, behind it all. But “Labor Day Luau” did none of those things, never attempting to go deeper beyond the surface of what the movies it owes its existence to could have.
Take the Getty situation: Throughout the season, Getty has proven himself to be more than the rich villain who serves to make the protagonist’s life hell because he can afford a nicer car. Instead, he was an important mentor to David, someone who was detached enough to tell David to take risks, while giving him sane advice. He related to David; their lockers have existed on different sides of country club, but they still looked up at the same stars. He liked David enough spend an hour a day with him, to hire him, to hire him back, to offer him a chance at an internship. But the idea of David dating his daughter is reprehensible because? That’s never cleared or answered other than to create a further rift between Skye and David. When Getty is arrested, David does not mourn the loss of this mentor. Instead, he just looks aghast. His rent check is gone for the winter, but David does not have any strong emotions about that either. Instead, their time is spent on a training montage that works within this idea of a pastiche ’80s cinema but does not give the episode any heft or depth.
“Labor Day Luau” also proved how ultimately thin the Skye character was. She wasn’t so much a person as a representation. She was freedom, compared to Karen’s stability, normalcy, and ultimately confinement. Where Skye dressed predominantly in black — this episode was the first time she ventured into color outside of her tennis outfit, and that dress was simply white — while Karen was all blue eye shadow and crimped hair. But it was Karen who proved to have more depth as a character in the end. “I wouldn’t mind you not knowing if I knew you wanted me,” she tells David, knowing that the big house and kids she wants are not what’s putting David off to her. It’s her. But Skye, who spends the entire series being contradictory and bossy and stubborn is ready to beg for David’s love as soon as he rejects her, despite the fact that she knows she’s leaving. Even her ending decree — “Come find me in Paris” — is so much less about finding Skye than it is for giving David the excuse to leave New Jersey. Like Karen, David doesn’t want Skye. He wants what she represents.
There was one moment of “Labor Day Luau” that lived up to the best parts of Red Oaks and that is the final tennis match between Sam and David, wrapping up just where they began. Sam isn’t as sure on his feet after the heart attack. His shoe is untied, like a child. He’s finding himself at his own end and facing the uncertainty he was so terrified for his son to face: He and Judy are getting a divorce. I don’t want to be an accountant, David finally tells his father. “I know,” Sam says, with such immense resolve on his face. Richard Kind has been excellent throughout this entire series, playing both broad, like in “Fourth of July,” and more subtle, in the odd “Body Swap.” But he has gone above and beyond in his role.
Red Oaks wasn’t great, but it went down smooth and packed an emotional punch when it could have relied on its gimmick. I’m interested to see what direction they take the show in if another season is eventually picked up. It’d be best for Red Oaks and its writers to leave the pastiche behind and focus on characters instead.