Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp or why American Pie died a slow, painful death.
Fans of the comedy group Stella – the brainchild of comedians David Wain, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black, will understand how I feel when I try to get people into the 2001 film Wet Hot American Summer. It’s a true outsider, despite the star-studded roster of actors before they truly ‘made’ it, it fails to really impress. With only 32% on Rotten Tomatoes and featuring a comedy style that’s somehow very 90’s but simultaneously ahead of the pack in that typical noughties irreverence that evolved out of the Adult Swim style. Trying to get your friends to watch it is a bit of a gamble. Most people may not be too enamoured with the film’s portrayal of that American camp idealism mixed with the comedically drawn-out exposition that echoed their brief Stella shorts, but somehow the rebirth of this pseudo-cult-classic has tipped the scales of aggregators across the internet with WHAS: FDoC reeling in an 8.1/10 on IMDB and a heady 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Netflix have performed solidly with their string of originals, and it’s no doubt that a ‘teen’ comedy headed up by Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Jason Schwartzman, Amy Poehler and Bradley Cooper, with additions of seasoned heavyweights like Jon Hamm and John Slattery (and many more), is going to spur the interest of many a Netflix subscriber aside from fans of the originals. The improvement is sudden, with many commenting that what the film lacked in consistency, the show builds on dramatically; it feels tighter, fresher, less rushed and altogether more sincerely whole and heartwarming. It plays with the nostalgia of adolescence whilst also making dick-jokes. The creators have more than enough time to spout “My dick is a state of the art broadcast facility” in a way that ensures maximum liquid spilling humour whilst fleshing out the back-story of principal characters. Everything about the show feels as if it falls into place, so much so that the outfits chosen specifically to overamplify the stereotypes of 1980’s teenage campgoer Americana go almost unnoticed. American Pie: Band Camp failed to capitalise on what WHAS: FDoC accomplishes, a very childish satire on the story of young friends getting up to general mischief. But perhaps this is accomplished by the fact that the main cast, all in their 30’s and 40’s, are playing 16-17 year old camp counsellors.
Dick-jokes aside First Day of Camp fleshes out its plot in becoming an actual story about campers and the intricate relationships that unite them. The absurdist back-stories of characters such as Elizabeth Banks’ Lindsay as a reporter for a hip rock n’ roll magazine infiltrating a summer camp to find out ‘the real story’ is ridiculous enough to be a joke all in itself, but that is what WHAS is known for, the fact that the entire premise itself is a massive joke. This is what boosts the reliability of the show for those familiar with Wain and Showalter’s work as well as newcomers; the focus on plot and forming an actual viable storyline around camp counsellors can be trivial when trying to inject some fun into the prospect of reliving our adolescence via television, and bringing about actual backstory into the plainly absurd span of characters works wonders to keep us pinned to the screen. Remember why Beaver Falls did so awfully? The backstory was just too farfetched to seem realistic, and the aforementioned American Pie, though performing only marginally better, seemed to flounder when attempting to approach the American camp theme in any form of seriousness. This is where WHAS triumphs, the premise of portraying adolescent indulgence in excess is complimented by the fact that the show does not take itself seriously in any measure, it doesn’t stop to explain itself, it simply carries on.
Given that over the course of eight 30-minute episodes the creators are given four hours with which to document 24 hours of the first day at Camp Firewood, there is more screentime for those who were underlooked in the film; Poehler, Banks and Cooper feature more prominently given the weight their names now add to the already loaded cast, and this is commendable, giving the show more ground to cover. Fans of Paul Rudd’s role will not be disappointed by his almost natural fit into the role of studmuffin extraordinaire Andy, as his appearance in every scene almost has you gasping. You also leave the series wishing you could rock a double denim outfit as slick without getting laughed out of the universe. Another win for First Day of Camp is that upon seeing the haircuts, the outfits, the hazy filter and the engorged stereotypes; you almost forget to question it, exactly why would a rock n’ roll magazine reporter journey to a summer camp in Maine to report anything interesting? And exactly why would government troops attempt to take over said camp? As you tend to forget that all of this is happening you then realise that eight episodes later you’ve passed four hours of your life and found yourself at the edge of a very dark precipice. In that case I highly recommend you check out any of Wain and Showalter’s other short pieces, and give the original Wet Hot a well-deserved re-watch.
The show feels fresh, charming and heartwarming, whilst altogether being a very irrelevant middle finger to the people who go to great lengths to create similarly heartwarming stories in a serious manner. Aside from guest stars a plenty this series delivers something brilliant to fans of the film, it provides far greater depth in story than the original ever did and allows us to have four hours of just pure fun with the same characters in the same ridiculous scenarios as before. First Day of Camp has swept reviews and aggregators with top-tier ratings compared to its predecessor, and reports coming in from regular viewers praise the level of rigidity it develops, altogether more whole and polished whilst maintaining the same humour you may find at the later leg of a midnight session of Adult Swim and the greater Waintopia that borders somewhere in between the depravity of Tim and Eric and the gleeful acid trip of Regular Show.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go hump a fridge.