Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

First of all: my Glitch review will be up tomorrow. I have choir practice tonight and I haven’t had time to watch it on iview, so that’s the way it goes. Since I finished Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp on Sunday (that was basically forever ago), I’d thought I’d write a review of the season as a whole. First Day of Camp is goofy the way the film was, but it doesn’t work quite as well. I guess that depends on which storylines you prefer in the film and even the show – I have a preference for Christopher Meloni as Gene, who now has so much money from doing Law and Order: SVU that I think he should probably just do comedies all the time. David Wain and Michael Showalter have such a knack for casting that all the new characters felt part of the world, but more on that later.

Wet Hot American Summer isn’t a film I’ve watched over and over again, I just watched it for the first time two weeks ago. I think it’s a film that rewards on rewatching, because while I enjoyed it, I don’t think I was prepared for the film I was going to watch. What I’m saying here is that the film and the prequel series probably meant a lot more to other people than it did to me, but it wasn’t without its problems. In my review for “Campers Arrive”, I said that I was worried about the structural issues of the series; what was a 90 minute film became a 4 hour television show, and I think that First Day of Camp definitely would have benefited from having at least two fewer episodes. One of the conceits of the film that was followed in the series is that everything happened in the one day, and that’s fine, I just think that structure is an incredibly important part of making film or television, and it could have been better here. I can’t speak to specific storylines that could have been curtailed except for Gail’s various engagements/marriages to three different men on the one day, even though Molly Shannon is great.

That being said, I did really enjoy First Day of Camp, which is absolutely written in the same spirit as WHAS. The conceit of it being a prequel even though everyone is fifteen years older (although Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks don’t look as if they’ve aged AT ALL) is the kind of tongue in cheek humour that I enjoy, so that was fun. Also the sentient can of vegetables is actually Mitch the camp director! He fell into a pool of toxic sludge while eating his favourite snack, and his consciousness transferred into the can! The Mitch/Gene/Beth/Falcon storyline was absolutely the highlight of the show for me, and it has that same seriousness for a ridiculous scenario that made the Skylab storyline in the original film so great.

One of the things about Netflix shows is that it’s really interesting to see which episodes people are watching on Twitter. While I was on episode 7 or 8, I saw someone ask whether Josh Charles was the best new character in the canon. I wanted to say, “It’s actually Jon Hamm”, but when she got to the last two episodes, she was on the same page as me. The casting in this universe is fantastic. I’m not a huge Michael Cera fan, but he was good as Jim Stansel. Josh Charles, Jon Hamm and Chris Pine were completely inspired though, and Chris Pine’s casting was perfectly reminiscent of his performance in Into the Woods. I loved the addition of the counsellors over at Camp Tiger Claw as the rich snobs, and it’s a perfect role for Josh Charles (still a traitor to The Good Wife) given how great he’s been on Inside Amy Schumer whenever he pops up.

Jon Hamm is having a stellar year in television though, and I’m so glad they cast him as The Falcon so that he could play off Christopher Meloni. If Jon Hamm somehow doesn’t win an Emmy this year (at the very least, he should win for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the Best Actor in a Drama category is weak, but Jeff Daniels won two years ago, so anything can happen), he could win one next year for First Day of Camp. I would watch a comedy starring Christopher Meloni and Jon Hamm, and that would be one of my favourite films/television shows of all time, assuming it has writers who know how to use them. I loved that Gene was Gail’s Jonas, but the funniest part of the series came when he chased Victor all around the camp, and Victor was running while Gene was just skipping along. The “Ol’ Switcheroo” has a code number, and Jon Hamm was in on Gene’s plan the whole time because they served “in the ‘Nam” together. Brothers in arms trumps chain of command, and that’s all we need to know.

I wasn’t particularly interested in the battle for Katie’s heart, even though Marguerite Moreau is an incredibly attractive woman. It provided great physical material for Paul Rudd though, who decided that he was going to win her heart by doing star jumps and push ups. Meanwhile, Josh Charles was watching everything from across the lake through his binoculars. The storyline wasn’t for me, but the acting was great, which is why I still enjoyed it, even though it wasn’t my favourite. I think my favourite part of Camp Tiger Claw was actually when all the counsellors were watching Electro City. Blake got really upset when he saw the kiss, but Kristen Wiig was totally into it: “Electro City is so cruel!” I love that the camps came together at Eric’s performance of “Higher and Higher” (which I’ve been singing all week) just before he was possibly killed by the military. This show’s ridiculousness wouldn’t be anything without great writing and a great cast, and luckily for everyone, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp has both.

Other thoughts:

  • Coop was in a weird storyline with a non-movie character named Donna. Eh. The best Coop scene was in the final episode, when he was telling Kevin everything that happened the previous day, after Kevin said he had a rough night.
  • The campers storyline felt a little shoehorned in (the little girl becoming a grown woman once she got her period was great), but I loved that there was all this animosity on Day 1, and then the next day the kids are over it and play Yahtzee! together. That’s such a kid thing to do.
  • I really enjoyed David Hyde Pierce’s origin story, and once again, Richard Schiff was perfectly cast as the Dean of Astrophysics at whichever university it was.
  • As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know the film particularly well, but Alan Sepinwall has made a list of callbacks to the film within the series, and it’s pretty great.

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