I finally watched Red Oaks

Whenever I want to write about TV, I think about the disparaging comment I saw that someone made about this blog years ago, that they didn't see much language-oriented content. That's because I've had this blog for several years, and when I started it, I was editing and translating a few languages, so my work life was all about language, and I wanted to express my observations and love for it. But I was working at home alone so much, I started to have the TV on in the background, so I started to write about that and other things. Fast-forward several years, and we now have lots of streaming shows.

I've had access to, or have watched, various shows and pilots, and have even read scripts to see how the heck they write that way, because it's super-difficult. During the summer, I heard someone speak who was involved in Red Oaks, and people commented that the show was really good. So I immediately watched the pilot, and I was like, okay, what's this? It reminded me of a cheesy 80s movie. But then I realized that was the point. It wasn't mocking such movies nor was it satire, but it put us in that world and communicated a sincerity and warmth that wasn't portrayed in those movies. Then I watched all three seasons right away. What I consistently saw was that the writers/creators seemed to like people. I have no idea if they really do, but it felt that way because all the characters were grounded, even though some were silly or exaggerated. But there was a sincerity and warmth throughout the entire show that I really connected with, even though there were crude jokes and scenes a la obnoxious 80s movies. I'm not a fan of vulgar or explicit content, but I wasn't focusing on those aspects, just enjoyed the characters and stories that were in an era that I was familiar with.

I actually wrote a ton about this show in the original post, but decided not to go live with it because I realized that I'd written a thousand words just about the female characters (in a complimentary way). Now that I've set the post aside for a couple of weeks, I'm still thinking about the show, and I'm still thinking about the characters, even though since then I've watched other movies and shows, including I, Tonya and Pam & Tommy, because, while those biographical works have excellent acting and the non-Americans absolutely nailed the accents, Red Oaks is totally original and all the characters and storylines are great! 

First of all, Paul Reiser is an incredible actor who absolutely mastered his character. The writers even skillfully put his background and motivation for wealth into conversations he had about his family and his desire to be successful. I have met such people, and Reiser makes it all seem authentic. His portrayal of an ambitious man is so spot-on, I'm not surprised that he's been such a success in Hollywood.

And I love his wife. Because this show is mainly a comedy, she seems like a caricature of the stereotypical wealthy husband's wife who maintains her beauty and enjoys the fruits of her husband's labor. But what makes her so enjoyable to watch is that she is strong and she loves him and cares about their daughter in the best way she can. It's also revealed that she was with her husband from their early struggles to their comfortable present. He loves her and she loves him, and honestly, I like seeing such relationships on shows. The writers seemed to make a wise choice to counteract greed and conspicuous consumption with love that we can clearly see. She's also blunt in a humorous way. She seems obnoxious but as the series continues, we see how she's multifaceted and strong. I have also met people like her and don't aspire to befriend such people, but her character was fascinating and fun to watch.

Their daughter is a character who looks and acts like a combination of Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald, which was a clever decision because the show takes place in the mid-1980s, and they were definitely popular during those years. She is like women I've known, whose rich parents support her and who likes to live on the wild side, different than her privileged upbringing. When I saw her go through her experiences on the screen, I kept thinking that she's a version of the kind of woman I wrote about. Because I'd met people like her, I wanted to capture such a character in fiction, but some people who read my book didn't believe that someone like that could exist. But yes, there are wealthy young women who want to go off the track and party and date guys and live crazy lives because they've grown up with restrictions, and they can afford to take chances. Even though the character in Red Oaks is more subdued than mine, I was glad to see her included because her scenario wasn't far-fetched. 

About the pretty women: this was another area where it seemed to me like the writers juxtaposed what we see and what we experience via their actions. Of course, every Hollywood creation is going to have attractive people. What bothers me is when they're objectified, a topic that has been written about for eons. But basically, when I see beautiful women on the screen and there isn't much depth, or when the guys are given more gravitas and the beautiful women are mere eye candy, I tune out. There are various examples of shows and movies created around guy characters where their female love interests are: 1) dumb/ditzy; 2) would realistically be unattainable because they're way more beautiful than the men, and the men might show boorish qualities and the women inexplicably ignore such negative traits and brainlessly go out with them; 3) there doesn't seem to be a productive role for them other than they're hot and that's it. 

Kate Mulgrew infamously criticized the Star Trek: Voyager bosses for bringing Jeri Ryan to the show, and even though Seven of Nine was obviously very popular for how she looked, she was smart and had depth and an extreme seriousness that was humorous. Even though I saw through the show's creators' T-and-A tactics (which they also used in Enterprise, which I quickly bailed), I stayed with it because she's a good actor and her character was interesting.

And that's what the Red Oaks creators seemed to do; they included the beautiful people for typical Hollywood aesthetics but didn't seem to objectify them. The two beautiful women who worked at the country club were nice people and had feelings. They were people to me, not just some excuse to include perfect-looking people in a show to get ratings. The guys who were interested in them weren't the stereotypical pigs, but they still had obnoxious aspects, harkening back to those silly 80s teen movies. But again, the situation had depth and reminded us of what we'd been served before, but with a more earthy and heartfelt twist. I don't want to give away any details (because it seems like a lot of people haven't seen this show), but one of the seemingly loser guys who is interested in one of the perfect-looking women ends up being way more than we think he is.

What the pretty women decide throughout the series demonstrates that there is more to them than just a perfect body and pretty smile. The aerobics instructor is really sweet and positive, which is also consistent with some people I've met in the fitness world. And the lifeguard character is sincere about overcoming the struggles in her life, and we see that growth by the end of the series. I don't want to give away what happens, but it's great. Basically, we often see beautiful people get ahead in life even when they don't have skills or a pleasant personality, and they use their looks to gain access. We don't see that in this show. Yes, looking a certain way helps, but they work hard and have positive traits, which I don't always see in real life, especially in certain industries (and I could write a whole blog post just about that).

And since I'm into accents and this is, at the core, a language-related blog, I was very impressed with Craig Roberts' accent. His American accent is so good to the point that I had no idea that he came from Wales. Of course, he is a good actor and has a flatness about him that makes him a likable main character who is navigating the ridiculousness around him. One of my favorite quotes from the movie is when an older man at the club tells Roberts' character, "You know what we did back in my day to find ourselves? We killed Nazis." There are so many moments like that in the show, and combined with some performances of other talented actors, including Ennis Esmer, who aced his accent via his thoroughly entertaining character (he was the show-stealer), and the fantastic Richard Kind, who is totally believable as the father, it's a show that is rooted in authenticity rather than a clever concept or agenda.


Adopted in the last century

Sometimes I meet people who've been adopted, or who have adopted kids, and I tell them that my dad was also adopted. Because he was born in the 1920s, adoption wasn't openly discussed, so he didn't know about his origins until later. I've been binge-watching Red Oaks (which I'll write about once I finish Season 3), and in some respects, it reminds me of some of my family's experiences. One time I told my dad that I wanted to get a bling ring, and he gave me one that looks like an ostentatious wedding band that a character wears in Red Oaks. The ring he gave me was made in the 1940s and wasn't meant to be a wedding band; it was a fancy men's ring, but and he didn't really like it. It looks sort of gaudy but it's fun, so I wear it. My dad wasn't tacky; he was highly educated, well-read, and dressed well, even when he was teaching in a public high school.

I was recently looking through my online files and found the eulogy that I wrote for his funeral. I'm posting it here because it expresses my gratitude for the people who helped him out, and to show how an adopted person from almost 100 years ago shared similar feelings to adopted people now.

Recently I asked my dad when he was the happiest, and he said his childhood; he had a very good childhood, which was the beginning of his long, fulfilling life. What bothered him though, through his old age, was the fact that he had found out that he was adopted. He didn’t find out from his parents but from another kid, and from that point forward, while he continued to have a good life, he felt like the enjoyable world he thought he had was somehow artificial, not what he thought it really was. The family that his parents said he had--cousins, aunts, uncles (he was an only child)--were not *really* his family because they weren’t biologically linked to him. 

I kept telling him that he was very lucky to have been adopted by a supportive, stable, well-off family who gave him everything he wanted (except for a BB gun). It didn’t matter that they weren’t biologically connected to him; they *were* his family, the family that chose him and brought him into their lives. And he was taken care of in various ways; even during the Depression, when a lot of the country barely had anything to eat, he had his own bedroom in a nice neighborhood in Youngstown Ohio, played golf with his cousin, ate large meals with homemade desserts, rode his bicycle around the neighborhood...and after he moved to Canton he lived out the Depression and many of his adult years there in comfort. 

Fast forward to his old age, when I spent a lot of time with him due to his physical limitations and illness. It became clear to me, while he still spoke of what I call an existential perception of existence (as he described the fact that he was adopted, so he was essentially “alone” in the world), I noticed that there was a *larger* family that had adopted him. Of course, family members called him, visited him, took him out, and made sure he was okay. But the family extended from there; it was the family of society. 

Many people who had no familial ties were very good to him. Friends and neighbors took him out, offered to help him in any way needed, talked to him, and treated him with respect. And it even extended beyond that. Many people, including strangers, treated him well and encouraged him. On a number of occasions, people he did not know at all would walk up to him and help him get out of a chair or out of a car. A cashier at Jewel would hand him a tissue when his nose was runny. A waitress would give us free meals. A man who didn’t speak English would give him a thumbs up. A woman would step out of the way to make room for him and his walker, telling us that she understood since she, herself, helped elderly relatives. The incredible reaction of people around him helped him to not feel alone.

As he got older, he became a relaxed person who had a very good attitude and lived in the moment. He pretty much never worried. I think his positive attitude and pleasant demeanor opened up doors for him, and caused others to respond favorably. Thanks to all the people in his life (as is evidenced by all the people here), the excellent doctors, nurses, and non-medical staff at Evanston Hospital, Glenbrook Hospital, and the Kellogg Cancer Center, he was able to live--and die--in dignity. 

His life serves as a reminder that even the little things we do can have a huge impact on another human being. I feel that this is important to remember as we see increasing evil in the world, because the good we do can offset the bad.