Netflix’ newest series offering is a sequel to the 2001 movie Wet Hot American Summer, called Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. And camp it is.
Everybody’s Worst Nightmare
The season’s a short one; 8 episodes in total. Much more comedy probably couldn’t be made from a summer camp, populated by kids playing kids, 35-year olds playing 17-year olds, a dangerous, B-movie type radioactive waste site, and a whole lot of goofiness. We’ll focus on the first episode ‘Campers Arrive’, in which, you guessed it, busloads of kids – together with Ant-Man – come cruising in, for their first day of camp AKA everybody’s worst nightmare, starring the biggest bullies you’ll ever meet.
Did you say Ant-Man? O yes. Paul Rudd is part of a huge ensemble cast, playing a sort of uncool version of The Fonz. He’s really grown as a (character) actor. He doesn’t exactly have a funny face (but can make one, though), so that’s a disadvantage and may have also been the reason he’s usually cast as a colorless supporting actor. Memorable his roles were seldom. 2015 might just be the year his career really took off.
In ‘Campers Arrive’, it’s June 24, 1981. Apart from the clothes – and not a cellular phone in sight – the date doesn’t really make a difference to the story. I’m sorry, did I say story? Wet Hot American Summer feels less like a comedy and more like a sketch show à la Saturday Night Live. It’s basically sketch after sketch, all taking place at a summer camp – but that’s the only thing the scenes have in common.
The cast is great. Really. They’re all all-stars, but they seem to have been given the assignment to make each of their characters as weird, off and goofy as possible. It’s the 21st century comedy rule – as described in our post Goofballa Commedia – to stuff as many off-beat characters into a single show, but you need at least one moral hallmark, a normal, everyday (wo)man. Someone to relate to, someone to keep the series grounded. Imagine The Office without Jim Halpert, The Brink without Rafiq Massoud, Seinfeld without Jerry Seinfeld.
Still, the cast is great. And big: Janeane Garofalo (Saturday Night Live, 24, The West Wing), Marguerite Moreau (Parenthood, Grey’s Anatomy), Joe Lo Truglio (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), Bradley Cooper (Alias, The Hangover, Limitless), Zak Orth (Revolution), John Slattery (Mad Men), Lake Bell (Boston Legal), Josh Charles (The Good Wife, In Treatment), Rich Sommer (Mad Men), Jason Schwartzman (Bored to Death), and soon to join the party: Christopher Meloni (Oz, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), David Hyde Pierce (Frasier), Richard Schiff (Manhattan, The West Wing, House of Lies), Weird Al Yankovic (Eat it), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), and Chris Pine (Star Trek).
Wet Hot American Summer (we’ve yet to see what’s so wet and hot about it) certainly isn’t for everyone. An ‘acquired taste’, is the appropriate term. ‘Camp’ another one, although maybe it wants to be camp a little too badly. That’s why it feels more like a reality show about a summer camp for comedy actors, instead of a comedy series about a summer camp for kids.
Maybe there’s no difference.