TV highlights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’ hits Netflix

31 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Wet Hot American Summer’ on Netflix — ready your high tolerance for profane comedy.

Were you to imagine a follow-up to “Wet Hot American Summer,” David Wain and Michael Showalter’s 2001 absurdist parody of an 1980s summer camp movie, it likely would not be as a prequel in which all the members of the main cast, now 14 years older, return to play their old characters in a story set two months before original film. Put a hotshot grin on your face and don’t let anybody shoot it off: Wet Hot American Summer is returning for more sweaty, surreal laughs by the lake on July 31. In the intervening years, many became stars — including Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd, and Elizabeth Banks — and it morphed from a flop beloved by a few to a quotable, cult-comedy classic. The comedy duo, who wrote the much-adored 2001 indie movie about counselors at a Maine camp in ‘81, have been flying the Wet Hot promotional flag for years and now have reassembled the entire adult cast and added fistfuls of new characters for an eight-episode prequel that debuts July 31 on Netflix.

You can read about their journey to revive Wet Hot – and all sorts of behind-the-scenes tidbits about what will happen on the first day of camp during that fateful summer – right here. But it has crept to cult status since its initial release, helped along by the growing fame of its cast and a growing taste for its brand of rude, extravagant, tangential-to-reality humor. Right now, though, see what else Wain and Showalter told EW about the little indie box office dud that later achieved cult success, their roles in front of the camera, and the prospect of another visit to Camp Firewood in the future. Not as a serialized comedy — it is what it is, a goofball, sketch-style show whose absurdist jokes work about half the time — but as an elaborate, slowly unspooling parlor game.

It was a time when there was a boom in independent film, but still, at that point, hundreds and hundreds of features went to Sundance every year, and maybe a half dozen got released, and we knew that we were in that camp—literally. The first, and perhaps primary, source of fun is simply identifying all the returning actors and noting how the intervening 14 years have treated them. Everything from first love to full-blown heroin addiction was covered in the 2001 film, and the series is equally jam-packed, with the tentative navigation of confusing teenage relationships giving way to a toxic waste-dumping mystery that imperils the camp. They have been joined by the nothing-to-sneeze-at likes of Jon Hamm, Jason Schwartzman, Chris Pine, Lake Bell, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, John Slattery, Jordan Peele, Josh Charles, Michaela Watkins, Randall Park, Paul Scheer and Wain. (That’s not counting anyone else who might arrive in the two episodes I’ve yet to see.) This is the comedy generation that shows up to the party; one senses that success may be incidental to their fun. Some who will not be mentioned here suffer in comparison with their 20- and 30-something selves, but others look astonishingly the same (if no more convincing as teenage summer-camp counselors): Paul Rudd, Marguerite Moreau, Elizabeth Banks, Janeane Garofalo.

Plenty of new friends join in on the fun, including John Slattery and Jon Hamm of “Mad Men,” Jordan Peele of “Key & Peele,” and Josh Charles of “The Good Wife,” all buying into the antic energy with abandon. In addition to the action at the camp, the series colors in the back stories of several characters, with Banks’s counselor Lindsay and David Hyde Pierce’s astrophysicist Henry getting particularly juicy and ridiculous histories. He reveals an unexpected musical side in his quest for frenching.” “Gail is a hopeless-romantic arts and crafts counselor who is always trying to make it work with who she thinks is the love of her life — and she is engaged to and will be marrying the sweet and loving camp chef.” “Gary is the chef’s assistant but his loyalties are tested and he must decide whether to honor his job description or honor what he knows is right.” “Abby likes to make out and flirt. As with the original film (it’s advisable, but not necessary to watch it before diving into the series), what is most enjoyable about “First Day of Camp” are the many different styles of funny it brings to the table. There are moments of utter silliness, clever commentary, serious raunch, and left-field absurdity. (Yes, the talking can of mixed vegetables is back.) A surprising sweetness underscores the series — there is affection here for that time in life when you are finding out who you are — but there’s snarkiness too, directed at films like “Little Darlings” and “Meatballs.” Also like the original, there are moments that land with a thud or gags that are milked too long.

Though it takes place later, you would do well to first watch the film (which is available on Netflix as well), which provides the set-up for some of the series’ jokes. Abby is no exception.” “Arty is back on the airwaves, spinning the stacks of wax once again, hitting play on the cassettes and spinning the discs. It’s also wilder and more wide-ranging than the movie, bringing in a government conspiracy, Charleston-dancing upper-crust campers from across the lake and a legendary missing rock singer, all somehow forgotten by the end of the summer.

To watch this reunion-cum-origin-story, with its middle-aged original cast putting on teenage drag again, is to feel a tug of memory for the aughts and the ’90s heyday of MTV’s The State (which gave us co-writers Michael Showalter and David Wain) and the ’70s and ’80s camp comedies like Meatballs it lovingly spoofs. I grew up loving movies like Animal House and Caddyshack and the Python movies, and all these great ensemble comedies of the 80s, and it was like we were doing that: we were making our classic ensemble comedy.

If this eight-episode series were any more dense with resonances across time, it would be directed by Terrence Malick and have a prologue involving dinosaurs. His girlfriend from home is Katie (Marguerite Moreau), and he is very suspicious of her activities over at Camp Firewood.” “Blake has his two lackeys – [Graham and Warner] – and the three of them form this gang from Camp Tigerclaw that wants to see Camp Firewood fail.” “He plays the visiting Broadway director who’s come to camp to direct a musical so he works with Susie and Ben, and a little love triangle seems to be created there.” “He’s a little bit like Coop. If we just finish this, then people who are hardcore fans of The State will have some way to find it and see it and that’s great.” And we were psyched. But he’s befriended by Coop, who tells him that when he was first at camp he didn’t have any friends either, but it’s eight years later, and his friends from camp are his best friends in the world.” “He’s a hypnotist who does a traveling show at all the camps where he hypnotizes everybody and makes them do the funky chicken and the moonwalk.” Jon Benjamin, now at the top of the voice-acting field with “Archer” and “Bob’s Burgers,” returns as the can of vegetables and also gets to play a new, human character.) Particularly funny is the explanation of how Abby (Marisa Ryan) came to be so sexually mature.

This prequel is designed, like those dreadful reunions of old, to appease original fans, many of whom now have kids, while maybe picking up a sprinkling of curious young Netflix addicts. Jason Schwartzman plays a senior counselor and has very little to do in the four episodes available for review, though presumably something dramatic will happen to him since he wasn’t in the film. That’s that.” We were still happy about it, because we made the movie we wanted to make, and some people saw it and it got great feedback… except for the reviews, which were horrible. The beefing-up of the story — which includes a role for Jon Hamm as a government assassin — inevitably moves the series away from the tone of the movie, which evoked the gross-out humor and wistful, end-of-childhood sentimentality of the teenage comedies it was parodying. SHOWALTER: I do remember every year or so, you’d start to hear about special screenings that were being done at college campuses, or a bar would do a midnight screening of it and people were showing up in costumes.

But it’s more hit or miss, and it has a coarser edge, with more of a tendency to rely on comic violence for laughs. “Wet Hot” may owe its rebirth to nostalgia and lucky casting, but it’s worth noting that the film represents a transitional moment in American humor — a bridge from the films it was sending up (“Porky’s,” “Meatballs”) to the more knowing and detached comedies of today. Having grown up as a fan of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, that really struck me as a unique and wonderful and unusual thing that people were starting to do that, going to Halloween dressed as characters from the movie. WAIN: We’ve been talking about it long enough and we’ve all stayed friends that it feels totally surreal and yet totally normal, like no time has gone by… Working with really good friends who are simultaneously the funniest people in the world – what else could one ask for?

We’ve all travelled in many directions and done many things and experienced different things, and now were all checking back in, touching back together. One of the unforeseen things that happens is that they discover that there is toxic waste near the camp, and the existence of the toxic waste threatens the existence of the camp, so that sets in motion a save-the-camp storyline.

He’s a hopeless romantic and every relationship he’s in, he’s thinking big picture and these girls are like, “I’m a teenager.” But he’s very chivalrous in that way. I play an Israeli soccer counselor who poses a threat to Coop’s relationship with Donna. [He] is there on a program where Israeli counselors can come to the United States and travel for a year or six months as long as they work for two months at a summer camp…. SHOWALTER: If you are very versed on the movie, you will recognize a 100 million connective moments where we say, “So this is what that was!” But you could also poke a million holes in it, too. That is the premise that is starting to unfold, that every single day at Camp Firewood, everyone falls in love and everyone breaks up and the world almost ends. And I certainly was aware of that idea, but I also thought the excitement of doing it and the truth that there was so much more to do overrode my fears….

But throughout the whole process, from the earliest conception all the way to the editing, it was crucial to Michael and me to follow our gut and ride that line between being faithful to what it was without ever just retreading it or imitating it. And so what is a motif that’s fun to revisit versus what’s just copying the same joke, or doing a lesser version of what we’ve done in the movie? It was very challenging, but not that much more or less challenging than anything else I’ve ever done… We always knew going in that it was going to require smoke and mirrors to get it done, just because everyone is so successful and busy. SHOWALTER: My personal feeling about these characters and this world is that it has kind of a comic book quality to it, where there is always another story to tell.

It’s this crazy, fun group of kids and all of them are archetypal, yet in their own way, and I would love to keep telling stories about them, for sure. I feel like it’s a place that’s naturally heightened every day, and naturally condensed with drama and teenage hormones, so it’s just naturally cinematic, for me.

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