TV Review - Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

The prequel series of the 2001 cult classic, spoofing the idea of camp retreats for teenagers is essentially a remake of the film, stretched out and padded, improving on some things, decreasing in others, maintaining a consistent level of humor and comedy, but ultimately not living up to the potential therein. The entire cast is back with a lot of guest stars who are new from the original. Even though every guest star is great. The cast gets too big and some things get lost in the shuffle. Similarly, the series takes place in one 24-hour period, but with the goal of explaining how the characters came to be where they are at the film's start and doing so in the most ridiculous or absurd ways possible.

Some have been comparing this series to the fourth season of Arrested Development. The comparison is apt because it involved a comedic property that since its end has built a cult following and since its end, all of its stars went on to do really big things or become more famous people. Both were revived by Netflix, but the consensus seems to be building that where Arrested Development failed on Netflix, this show succeeds. I'm here to put on the record that this consensus is wrong.

People commend creators Michael Showalter and David Wain for getting all of these big stars back together. People bash Mitchell Hurwitz of Arrested Development because instead of trying to wrangle everyone, he embraced the idea of breaking his premise and doing individual stories. Yet, writing-wise, Showalter and Wain can't touch Hurwitz.

Not all of Hurwitz's jokes landed for people, but his joke-per-capita was extremely higher. His jokes were more nuanced and layered, and unlike Showalter and Wain, Hurwitz had to build a narrative that in the end made sense. Showalter and Wain can get away with anything most notably revisionist history by simply reveling in silliness, and just brushing it aside when it suits them.

Let's start with the two biggest stars, Bradley Cooper and Amy Poehler. Cooper is now one of the most popular, movie stars in the world. He's been nominated for three, consecutive Oscars for acting. The last time was for a film that made half-billion in the box office. He did a play on Broadway and he's also producing another TV series for CBS, so his availability was limited, and that fact becomes painfully obvious.

Poehler is busy too. From wrapping up her TV show, hosting gigs and doing several films, her availability is short. Even though she appears on screen more, her character feels marginalized. She in fact is given a back seat to new guest star, John Slattery. He sucks the oxygen out the room and upstages her unfortunately.

Speaking of marginalizing, there is a lack of group interactions between all the camp counselors this go-round. The 2001 film had a lot of group interactions where all the characters were present and doing things together like a drive into town, a baseball game or lack thereof, a gay wedding and flag football. This series tries the same with a musical theater performance and a party at the end. Yet, it again becomes painfully obvious that not all the actors were actually together. Many were just inserted using the magic of filmmaking.

This takes away the power of what these actors are good at doing, which is interacting and riffing off each other. This doesn't mean that the original characters don't get good or great bits with new characters. Janeane Garofalo gets a great bit and storyline with Jason Schwartzman who is new to the cast. Elizabeth Banks gets a great bit with Jordan Peele who is new. Molly Shannon gets a great bit with Randall Park who is also new but the bit isn't enough. David Hyde Pierce has a great bit, which fully fleshes his back story, but it feels like it exists in a vacuum.

New players like Josh Charles are hilarious and work. Other new players like Chris Pine don't. There are just as many hits as misses. Yet, it's nowhere near as effective and impactful as Arrested Development. Nor is it as funny or humorous overall.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 30 mins. / 8 eps.
Available on Netflix Watch Instant.


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