For Paul Reiser, ‘Red Oaks’ isn’t an ‘80s nostalgia fest.
The 59-year-old actor—who was just cast in Season 2 of another throwback ‘80s show, the cult hit “Stranger Things”— says Amazon’s coming-of-age comedy series is more about “people in this lovely little world who are finding themselves.” That it takes place in the ‘80s is incidental.
Reiser plays Getty, the president of the Red Oaks country club and king of said lovely little world (although in Season 2, out Friday, that’s all about to change). He’s a Wall Street guy with a gruff demeanor and sense of entitlement — yet, a likable jack-ass.
“It’s very fun to play that, because a lot of the nastiest stuff is said with an absolute smile so you’re actually meant to think, ‘Is he kidding?” he says.
The ‘Mad About You’ creator and star talks making television in the streaming era and how he never really got country club culture.
Let’s talk about your character, Getty. He’s a jerk, but it might be surface-level. He’s adversarial with David (Craig Roberts), but it’s hard to tell how serious he is.
There’s certainly a pompousness and an egotistical side to him. And some of it is earned — he’s made a success for himself — but even in season 1 you see, he starts to relate to David because he remembers when he was a caddy at a golf course and he worked his way up. And you see his dedication to his family.
He’s not malicious, he’s not really out to screw people, but he certainly walks around and can look down on people. He’s put himself in these positions of power, so, he’s the head of his country club, but it’s like, well, that really doesn’t make you the king. And he could be nicer about it. But, hopefully, as you say, there’s other things you see in him and you feel for him.
Can you talk about the experience of filming in the era of streaming, compared to the days of ‘Mad About You?’
It’s a very different pace. What’s great fun for me about this is just being a hired hand and just coming in and acting in a piece that somebody else has created and really thought out. So that’s very refreshing. But also, in this case, [all the episodes] are written in advance, you know where it’s going, it’s like shooting a movie piece by piece, but you know the whole story. With traditional half-hour television, you’re shooting episode 7 while you’re writing episode 8 and editing no. 6 and there’s a lot more chasing your tail.
This is much more sane—and you’re also doing 10 as opposed to 22, 23, 24. It’s a much more reasonable workload, and I think it’s actually beneficial for everybody. I think the actors don’t get burned out, the writers don’t get burned out. The audiences have so many choices now, it’s like tapas restaurants: we’re still leaving full, but we’re just having a little bit of that, a little bit of that.
What kinds of associations do you have with the ‘80s?
I’m looking forward to my ‘80s [laughs].
I think often, with a little distance, people write about their prime, or pivotal years. The very first movie I ever did was ‘Diner,’ which was Barry Levinson in the ‘80s writing about the late ‘50s. [‘Red Oaks’] is [creator] Greg Jacobs remembering his world in the ‘80s. You need 20, 25 years of distance to go back and do that.
It’s nice, [with ‘Red Oaks’], they’re not shoving [the era] down your throat. There’s a great soundtrack, there’s a reference here or there, “Oh, ‘Top Gun’ just came out”; right, because it’s the ‘80s. They’re also not making fun of it, ‘Look at our stupid haircuts and outfits.’ It’s not a mocking look; it’s a really heartfelt show that happens to be in the ‘80s.
Any country club experience in your past?
None. I never got it. I grew up in the city, we didn’t have country clubs. Even the world of the suburbs was odd to me. I used to go to summer camp, me and my buddy were the only city kids, and we’d meet these suburban kids. It was so alien to me, I’d go, “You guys have a lawn? You just play football outside your house?” So, a country club was that to the tenth power. “What, you just go and you pay to sit under a tree?”