Two radically different, if equally wonderful, historical series premiere: Amazon's nostalgic sitcom Red Oaks is set at a New Jersey country club in the mid-1980s, and BBC America's swords-and-hoofs epic The Last Kingdom takes us back more than a millennium to the 860s, when England was beset by a wave of Viking invasions.
Fans of the History Channel's gorgeous, surreal series Vikings, about the adventures of young Viking leader Ragnar Lothbrok, will get a kick out of The Last Kingdom. The new series is set 70 years after the History Channel's, recounting the Viking invasions of Northern England from the English point of view.
A lush adaptation of Bernard Cornwell's The Saxon Stories novel cycle, The Last Kingdom premieres at 10 p.m. Saturday on BBC America.
It's a fictionalized fable about a young English nobleman, Uhtred of Bebbanburg (the dreamy Alexander Dreymon from American Horror Story: Asylum), who finds himself in the middle of the dread war between Viking invaders and England's Saxon leaders.
The eight-episode series opens with the arrival of Danish Viking reinforcements in Northern England. Led by the aging Ragnar Lothbrok (Peter Gantzler), they make mincemeat out of the soldiers provided by local leader Lord Uhtred (Matthew Macfadyen), who is viciously killed as 12-year-old Uhtred Jr. watches.
To add insult to injury, Lord Uhtred's lands are usurped by his evil brother, Alfric (Joseph Millson).
Ragnar admires young Uhtred's spirit and adopts him on the condition that he renounce his Christianity. Fast-forward a decade, and Uhtred has grown up into a distinguished pagan warrior. His idyllic life is shattered when Ragnar is betrayed and murdered by a fellow Dane.
Like a mythical hero out of some ancient fable, Uhtred is left without an identity after losing both his Christian and pagan Viking fathers. He wanders south to join the armies of the English king Alfred the Great (David Dawson). But his true intention is to avenge both fathers and reclaim his land.
The Last Kingdom isn't in the same league as that other medievalesque literary adaptation Game of Thrones, nor does it have the epic scope of Vikings.
But its breathtaking photography, glorious fight scenes, and fantastical story make it a worthwhile treat for genre fans.
Baby boomers flooded the market with 1960s nostalgia for too long. It's time for Generation X to pay homage to its youth in the 1980s.
Enter Amazon's Red Oaks, a superb, lovable sitcom set in 1985, about a group of twentysomethings who have summer jobs at an exclusive New Jersey country club.
Co-exec produced and directed by David Gordon Green (Manglehorn, Undertow), Red Oaks stars Craig Roberts (Submarine, The Story of Tracy Beaker) as David, an NYU undergrad home for the summer who gets a job as an assistant tennis instructor at the Red Oaks Country Club.
An impressionable, smart kid from an upper-middle-class Jewish family, David is going through that awkward stage when his parents are no longer his boss, but they continue to act as though they are. He has begun to notice the rot at the center of their marriage - his mom, Judy (Jennifer Grey), is a closeted lesbian, and his dad (Richard Kind) hates himself for not marrying a girl he met while fighting in the Korean War.
Set primarily at the country club, Red Oaks beautifully captures the spirit of the era as it follows the amorous misadventures of its summer staff. It's not merely an experiment in nostalgia. The characterization and crisp writing have a biting comic edge, keeping the story from sinking into sentimental mush.
Roberts is backed by a terrific ensemble cast, including Gage Golightly (Teen Wolf) as David's aerobics-instructor girlfriend; Oliver Cooper (Californication) as his stoner high school pal Wheeler, who works as a parking attendant; Turkish Canadian actor Ennis Esmer (The Listener) as a smooth, perpetually randy British tennis pro; and Josh Meyers (That '70s Show) as a videographer with feathered hair and a pornstache.
Millennials need not worry: They'll dig this comedy as much as their Gen X elders.
The first season will be posted Friday
The Last Kingdom
10 p.m. Saturday
on BBC America.