Saturday, August 1, 2015

TV REVIEW: "Wet, Hot American, Summer: First Day of Camp"


At the start of the summer, I watched and reviewed "Wet, Hot American Summer" for the first time. It was pretty much love at first site. It was a comedy about summer camp, first crushes and mixed emotions. It also had a cast that included Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni and host of other talented people. While the movie is both funny and raunchy, it really nails the look at kids and their first summer of love. It nails the idea of having your first crush and your emotions pulling every which way. It nails the manic obsession to get your crush to notice you when your young. Yesterday, a prequel mini-series to "Wet Hot American Summer" was released, called "Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp." 

Much like the movie, this mini-series is funny and a little on the raunchy side. Once again, it really nails the look at kids and their first summer of love. It nails the idea of having your first crush and your emotions pulling every which way. It nails the manic obsession to get your crush to notice you when your young. Make no mistake though, "First Day of Camp" is mere retread, a prequel just for the sake of it. This story is something of its own and parts of it are nothing like you would expect. The finale is so ludicrously bonkers that you won't believe what you are seeing. But at every turn, there are subtle twists, things you think will play one way, but then turn into a completely different direction. The finale gets a little too crazy, and explanations to things run a little dry. Its too bad we only got eight half-hour episodes, because I could have watched thirteen full-hour episodes of this. But by end of it, "First Day of Camp" is a solid mini-series.

You read it right above, this is a prequel. I know I have had some ill-will against prequels and overall I still do. I think artists set themselves up to fail when approaching a prequel, because its very hard to create tension, drama or proper execution when we know the fate of all the characters. But creators David Waine and Michael Showalter do a good job keeping themselves out of the normal prequel traps. There is a lot of fun to be had. The series is essentially the whole first day of camp, and each episode is a few hours out of the day. We find out how Gene Jenkinson (Christopher Meloni) found a Can of Vegetables (H. John Benjamin) that talks to him. We find out how Ben (Bradley Cooper) and McKinley Dozen (Michael Ian Black) fell for each other. We find out how Beth (Janeane Garofalo) became head counselor for Camp Firewood. Most of all, we found out how Andy (Paul Rudd) and Katie (Marguerite Moreau) became a couple. There is a lot to cover in these short eight episodes and Wain and Showalter do a good job of keeping the story moving. All the while creating fun backstories for Lindsey (Elizabeth Banks) and Henry Newman (David Hyde Pierce). There is also a sweet story about Kevin (David Bloom), a camper who finds his first crush and tries to make new friends. There are also camp rivalries and a horrid government conspiracy. Yet nothing ever feels rushed or jumbled throughout the mini-series.

I love that these actors came back together to play the same characters fourteen years later, even though this is meant to be a prequel. Of course, this is all part of the joke, and there are several jokes throughout the mini-series that are meant to be a farce. These performers and their crew know how silly this idea is, and they run with it anyway. It doesn't stop the series from being funny. Paul Rudd easily steals the show, as he has the best material in the whole series. Every single time he was in front of the camera, he had me laughing in tears. Its amazing how he can do something like "Ant-Man" and return to Andy all in the same summer. Amy Poehler, Christopher Meloni and Bradley Cooper are also big highlights in the show. I love Lindsay's backstory and I think Banks sells it well. You will also dig the new characters and cameos laced within the whole mini-series. There are memorable performances by Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, Jason Schwartzman, Bruce Greenwood and Chris Pine. Yes, Chris Pine shows up and he has some great material that almost rivals (ALMOST) that of Paul Rudd. After this and "Horrible Bosses 2," I think Pine should really consider doing as much comedy as possible, because he's simply a delight in this.

I loved how quasi-ambitious this was. Again, this is not just more of the same. Most of the episodes will lead you to believe this. But all I can say is stay dedicated and keep watching. The final episode gets into some crazy territory, but I love how Wain and Showalter were able to make something different out of it, and had fun doing so in the process. I will admit, all the craziness kind of makes some story threads fall apart in the end, but not enough to derail the show. Wain and Showalter are really good at getting us to feel a sense of nostalgia for those days of being young, getting your first crush, having a summer where there no rules or limits to what you could do. That is the material that really shines here, and I remain shocked at how authentic it feels.

Fans of the original movie will love some of the throwbacks. The first episode begins with the counselors dancing around a campfire, much like the opening credit scene from the movie. On the last episode there is also a scene where the boys run out of the girls bunks at dawn, trying not to get caught. If you loved the original movie, I think its a safe bet you will love this too. If you haven't had the chance to experience this at all, check out "First Day of Camp" then immediately watch "Wet Hot American Summer." They are both on Netflix now and from how underwhelming this summer movie season has been, its good to know there is something so wonderful to watch.

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