Sunday, August 6, 2017

TV Review: "Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later"

TV Review

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later

Several months ago, I was asked to join a Facebook group in the planning of my high school's ten year reunion. I was taken aback by the very thought of it, has ten years really come and gone that quickly? It'll be interesting to see how this reunion goes, since social media has pretty much kept everyone together in some small capacity, still there is nothing like having face-to-face time with people you haven't seen in a decade. A reunion can go one of either two ways; it is rather enjoyable, or it just doesn't feel the same that you regret showing up. Strangely, "Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later"feels like a mix of both. There are parts that are rather enjoyable, but it just doesn't feel the same in other parts. The result is a mini-series I am glad I saw, but I was hoping it would be better. 

The year 2015 was the year of "Wet, Hot" for me. I saw "Wet Hot American Summer" for the first time, I saw the prequel mini-series "First Day of Camp," and I watched a documentary about the making of the first movie. All thanks to Netflix. I had a great ride with these characters that summer of 2015. I was instantly absorbed into this world and I was laughing my ass off the whole entire time. There was always that great set-up for another outing with these characters. When they promise to meet back at Camp Firewood ten years later. They promise to meet at 9:30, but McKinley (Micheal Ian Black) has to make sure its at 9:30 because he has something to do at 11:00. I never would have thought we'd ever see these characters ten years later. But after the cult following the first movie had, and the popularity of the Netflix revival. It was inevitable that we would finally see the ten year reunion.

"Wet Hot American Summer" begins with that classic scene of the camp counselors discussing coming back in ten years, then we quickly fast forward from 1981 to 1991. Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) is a successful news reporter, Susie (Amy Poehler) is slowly making it big as a film maker, J.J. (Zak Orth) works at a video store, Coop (Michael Showalter) is struggling to get a book published, McKinley and Ben are still married and now have a kid. Bradley Cooper couldn't reprise his role due to a scheduling conflict and was replaced by Adam Scott. The explanation for his new face is actually kind of funny. We also catch up with Katie (Marguerite Moreau) who is successful in the world of fashion, and Neil (Joe Lo Truglio) and Victor (Ken Marino) who are bartending in New York City. They all can't wait for the reunion and when they finally meet up at Camp Firewood (well, most of them, but more on that in a minute), Beth (Janeane Garofalo) welcomes them with open arms. She is also hesitant to tell them that she planning on selling the camp.

All of that would be perfect for a four-hour story of this reunion. After all, all the movie ever amounted to was a homage to 1970's and 1980's camp movies. Does Coop still have feelings for Katie? Is Victor still a virgin? Why is Beth selling the camp and can anything be done about it? Eventually Andy (Paul Rudd) shows up, late to the party, and he remembers being the coolest kid in camp, but he can't let go of his persona of yesteryear, even as an older man. How does that affect him? This is all good fodder for a sequel. The problem is, the main story is about President Ronald Reagan (also played by Michael Showalter) and President George H.W. Bush (also played by Michael Ian Black) are conspiring to blow up Camp Firewood? Why? Well, I am not really sure. The reasoning is so poorly explored and in the finale, seems like prank than a punchline. Lindsay is sidelined most of the mini-series trying to crack this conspiracy, and only regroups with everyone in the finale. We barely see some characters at all due to the overloading plot.

This was a bit of a problem with "First Day of Camp" as well. Instead of telling a simple story of fun-loving, horny teens meeting for the first time. There was this need to tell a bigger story. It was a weird way to set up the first movie, because if something as epic happened on the first day of camp, wouldn't the campers be talking about it all summer long? Here, Michael Showalter and David Wain, the mini-series creators, seem to be throwing everything at the wall to see what will stick. There was no need to make something so big and weird, all we ever wanted was to catch up with these characters. With everyone returning from the movie, including A.D. Miles, Samm Levine, Marisa Ryan, David Hyde Pierce, H. Jon Benjamin, Christopher Meloni and Molly Shannon. With everyone from "First Day of Camp" returning, like Chris Pine, Jason Schwarzman, Lake Bell, Kristen Wiig, Josh Charles, and John Early. THEN adding Jai Courtney (as Susie's Hollywood boyfriend), Alyssa Milano (as a "Hand That Rocks The Cradle" nanny), Dax Shepherd (apart of the conspiracy), Mark Feuerstein and Sarah Burns ( a couple who were digitally inserted into flashback scenes, and are supposed to be apart of the reunion) it all becomes a scenario of too many characters. Especially since we are dealing with eight episodes that are only thirty minutes each.

The best part of the movie and "First Day of Camp" was easily Paul Rudd's Andy. He pretty much made the movie for me and he was my main source of laughter in the prequel mini-series. He is criminally underused here. Worst yet, when he is on screen, he's not really funny. This is the cool guy who didn't care about anything, that is what made his character funny. Here he's a guy who is suffering from a identity crisis and it never adds up to funny material. I think if the time was taken, it could have been funny. Chris Pine was the funniest new addition to the character pool in the prequel mini-series, and when he returns, he also isn't very funny. I was hoping to laugh out loud again, but the focus is all on this conspiracy to destroy the camp, as well as the whole will Katie and Coop finally fall in love that nothing else is given the care it needs. 

I don't want this to sound like I didn't laugh at all. Because I did. There were moments in which I laughed. There were moments in which I laughed hard. This mini-series also has a powerful amount of nostalgia that helps boost the moments that don't work. Its just great seeing all of these characters again, even if they are all forced into a cramped space. I just wish the conspiracy story line was axed completely. I wish we had more time to focus on everyone at the reunion, how they changed, how they didn't change, where will they go from the reunion. The character interplay was what made the first movie special in the first place, it didn't rely on some silly far-from-logic storytelling device.

Overall, I kind of enjoyed this sequel mini-series. Kind of. I don't think its as good as "First Day of Camp," which is saying something since I am normally not a fan of prequels. Its nowhere near the level of the original movie. I am a little hesitant to recommend this to die-hard fans of the original movie, because I don't know how they will take to it. There was an actor-made sequel that the stars made after they filmed the movie in 2000, which you can find in the documentary of the making of "Wet Hot American Summer." That reunion they made is miles better than what you will see on Netflix here.

It was a fun mini-series, but I think this one might have slightly got away from David Wain and Michael Showalter. I kind of hope, for legacy reasons, that this is the last time we see the Camp Firewood gang together. If its not, then I hope the next time we see them is more character-driven.

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