If you were a fan of the movie, Wet Hot American Summer, then I’m sure you’ll be a fan of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, the new, 8-episode Netflix series. If you’ve never seen Wet Hot American Summer, like I hadn’t before a few weeks ago, then welcome to this review.
The film Wet Hot American Summer (from now on abbreviated as WHAS) is a cult-comedy-classic from 2001, created by David Wain and Michael Showalter of The State. Set at Camp Firewood, the film took place over the course of one day, the last day of camp for the summer. Horny teens and tweens made it their mission to find love before the end of the day. The original cast included Janeane Garofolo (who at that time was the biggest celebrity of the bunch) as well as Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, Christopher Meloni, Marguerite Moreau, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio and of course, Michael Showalter, among others. Amazingly, fortunately, fantastically, the original cast is back for WHAS: First Day of Camp. EVERYONE! Would you like to see Amy Poehler flirt with John Slattery? Would you like to watch Bradley Cooper perform musical theatre in a shiny spandex suit? Would you like to hear Paul Rudd utter the phrase, “I’ll fart my way into that snatch?” If you answered yes, then this TV show might be for you. Actually, this TV show might be for you even if you answered no, because it’s more than celebrities being funny. Wet Hot American Summer was funny before everyone was famous, and First Day of Camp is just as funny as the film.
First Day of Camp is set during the same summer as the movie (1981) but as the title indicates, it’s the first day of camp instead of the last day. Everyone is playing themselves, but 15 years older. So instead of 25-year olds playing 16 year olds, it’s 40 year-olds playing 16 year olds. One would think that A-list celerities playing teenagers would be the main joke, but there are so many jokes, that after the first episode you kind of forget about the celebrity factor and that old people are playing young people.
The humour is a mixture of slapstick, absurdism, black comedy, and just plain silliness but at the core the writing is character based. Because the writers/creators, David Wain and Michael Showalter wrote their characters so specifically and paid such close attention to detail, the characters do seem like the same people but 8 weeks younger in First Day at Camp. For example, Coop (played by Michael Showalter) is a whole lot chunkier at the beginning of summer but Coop is the same person: still sweet, naive, and unrelentingly focused on his one-sided love interests.
Should you watch the movie before you see the TV show? Certain storylines are enhanced with the knowledge of how the summer will end and certain jokes won’t land if you haven’t seen the film, but in general, the writing doesn’t rely on prior knowledge of the film. There is enough new material in the TV series to keep you laughing throughout. Although, if you have seen the film, I guarantee you will be pleased with some of the callbacks.
There were 3 storylines that I particularly enjoyed. The first is the origin story of the love affair between Ben (Bradley Cooper) and McKinley (Michael Ian Black). In the film, after an attempt by the male counsellors to get McKinley laid, the dudes find out that he is gay when they stumble upon his wedding to Ben, in a flowery, lake-front ceremony. At the beginning of the summer as shown in the TV show, Ben is dating Susie (Amy Poehler) and they are putting on a musical together. Over the course of a couple episodes, Ben gets to know McKinley while performing Electro City together, and they discover that they are both “creative.” Bradley Cooper and Michael Ian Black have great chemistry. Watching them flirt while wearing spandex was truly adorable and their electric kiss after the “zoot suit number” was a fully earned character moment. You want those two to get together.
The second storyline is really enjoyed is totally new to the TV series. Elizabeth Banks, who basically played a “beautiful, horny teenager” in the film, starts the TV show as a rock and roll journalist in New York City. She goes undercover as a camp counsellor at Camp Firewood to write about the life of the American teen. Without spoiling the entire storyline, Banks’s character, Lindsay, befriends the counsellors at the camp then uses their help to delve deep into the mystery at Camp Firewood. This storyline is a fresh example of the classic “undercover reporter solves a mystery” and its inclusion broadens the scope of the story from beyond Camp Firewood, to the New York rock and roll scene. (The TV show continues with this trend – broadening the story beyond the camp, into Camp Tigerclaw, and all the way to the Pentagon.) Most importantly, Elizabeth Banks shines when given comedic material to work with.
The last storyline I’m going to mention is really more of an extended joke. It’s an example of the smart writing of this series, in that the joke is funny on it’s own, but hilarious if you have seen the film. Actually, you know what, I’m not going to ruin it for you. I’ll just say this: Abby gets her period.
This is the part of the review where I mention things I don’t like. Some of the old person making out with underage kids jokes skeeved me out. Some of the truly absurd moments didn’t do it for me. But overall, there is such a range of material that if you don’t like one joke, or one type of comedy, wait a few seconds and there will be something else. WHAS is summer fun. Relax and enjoy.