TV Review: Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
PLOT: It's 1981 and the first day of camp at Camp Firewood, but the horny counselors are up to their necks in trouble, with toxic waste dumping, government assassins and secret identities galore.
REVIEW: Let me preface this review with a little common sense. If you haven't seen 2001's WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER and are planning on watching First Day of Camp, you need to go back and watch that movie pronto. This is clearly made for an audience that's not only familiar with the original but devoted to it. If for some ungodly reason you didn't like it than you'll want to give this one a wide berth.
Still with me? Good, because if you're a fan I can tell you that Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is exactly the follow-up we've been waiting for. While I've only seen half of the eight episode run (the part that was sent to critics) each episode is jam-packed with the same kind of wild, absurdest humor that made the original such a consistently re-watchable riot. In fact, the absurdity is dialed up a notch by the fact that the stars who in 2001 were ten years too old for their parts are now twenty five years too old. No effort whatsoever has been made to disguise how much the gang has aged, with bad wigs and noticeable paunches galore. But, that's the joke and everyone's in on it.
Clearly this is a labor of love for all involved. Director David Wain and writer Michael Showalter have not only gotten back the entire cast which included future stars Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Christopher Meloni and pros like Ken Marino, Marguerite Moreau, Joe Lo Truglio, Marisa Ryan, Molly Shannon, Janeane Garofalo & David Hyde Pierce but also folks like Jason Schwartzman, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Lake Bell, Weird Al Yankovic and seemingly half the cast of Mad Men including John Slattery and Jon Hamm. Everyone seems to be having a ball, and no one feels shoehorned in. It's amazing how well even normally serious guys like Pine and Slattery are able to slip into the madness, perfectly nailing the tone which is tough as this isn't normal comedic acting. It's not about funny faces and one-liners, it's absurdity and that's tough to pull off.
Despite the star power, everyone seems to be devoted to making the most of their screen-time. There are no bit parts and some of the actors you'd think would be too busy to do much more than cameo have substantial roles. Rudd, once again playing bad boy Andy, is back right from the first scene and appears in every episode as he chases Moreau's Katie who's dating the preppy counselor from across the lake (played by Josh Charles sporting popped collars on all three of his polo shirts). Elizabeth Banks has one of the funniest arcs, with it revealed that she's actually a twenty-four year old rock n'roll journalist trying to do an expose on teenage life (shades of what Cameron Crowe did in the book version of Fast Times at Ridgemont High). Meanwhile, Showalter once again plays about half-a-dozen parts, including counselor Coop (now pining after Lake Bell) and even Ronald Reagan, who sends his top assassin The Falcon (Jon Hamm) to eliminate those pesky Camp Firewood counselors who've found out the government is dumping toxic waste. And Christopher Meloni is once again brilliant as the Nam-vet Gene, although when we pick this up he's not quite the bandanna sporting, vegetable can loving psycho we've come to know and love.
Each episode moves along at a furious pace and most folks will likely be marathoning these one-after-another. Taken together, this feels like a super-sized sequel (well prequel) although its so good that fans will no doubt be hoping for another season (which seems like a good bet at this point). Reviving cult favorites can be iffy as we saw with Netflix's controversial fourth season of Arrested: Development. But it's tough to imagine anyone who loved the original not loving this. It's so much fun and I can't wait to binge on the second half of the season.