What makes the show unique is how every character, no matter what station of life they’re at, seems to be coming of age. David Meyers needs to decide what he’ll be when he grows up. Wheeler must come to terms with whether or not he should go back to college and quit dealing drugs. Meyers’ tennis foil Nash — played by Ennis Esmer like some hilarious, displaced Wes Anderson character — is in a state of arrested development. Getty comes off as deviously evil but simply wants respect and love from his daughter. David’s parents are on the verge of divorce after Kind’s character suffers a heart attack and tells his son he thinks his wife is a lesbian. (Also, he’s more into Asian women.) Everyone is finding themselves.
“This was the decade, I think, when married couples started separating and divorcing,” Kind says, on-set. “It really started in the late Seventies, because I think they saw what was happening in the Sixties but were a little too old and didn’t get a taste of that sexual freedom – or any sort of freedom. If you want to talk coming of age, I think that’s where it hits them. Ironically, it hit my parents; they split in 1979, 1980. Everyone was realizing that life is more than just what their parents told them to do in the Eisenhower era.”
For Grey, her role also echoed her own parents – actor Joel Grey, who originated the M.C. role in Cabaret, and Jo Wilder, an actress-turned-housewife – who separated after 24 years together in 1982. Although the obvious comparison between Grey’s character to her parents would be to her father, who came out as gay at age 82 earlier this year, she says the role is more a reflection of both of them.
“When I was growing up, I never for a second thought that they would ever get divorced,” she says, back in the New York City hotel room. “They seemed very madly in love and almost enmeshed. So the idea that they were both suppressing their truths came up. My mother left my dad to be able to figure out who she is. I really believe, if we’re lucky, before we die we get to have some period of time where we can fully follow whatever it is that is our bliss, without judgment, shame, or self-loathing. That’s what I wish for everybody.”
“I was just in my own practically orgasmic state of heightened arousal.” – Jennifer Grey
Of course, finding yourself can be funny, too, which Grey and Kind’s characters learn in Red Oaks when, at the advice of a marriage counselor, when they experiment with MDMA. After David returns home, he finds his parents in their underwear, rolling. And Grey’s character is immediately attracted to her son’s girlfriend. “I couldn’t wait to get my hands on that girl,” Grey says with a laugh. “I was just in my own practically orgasmic state of heightened arousal, and there was just, like this yummy Himalayan kitten walking in, all fuzzy and warm and smelling like powder.”