‘Wet Hot American Summer’ cast and crew reflect on path from oddball comedy …

31 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

The mark of any good summer camp — whether it has a pool or a lake, Capture the Flag or Color War — is if campers can’t wait to come back again after the season comes to an end.

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.

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. In a twist that is perfectly true to the spirit of the film — which captured the eventful last day of the season in 1981 for campers and counselors at Camp Firewood — the series rewinds to the first day.

Take the one from The Parent Trap (activities include: learning secret handshakes with Lindsay Lohans), or Camp Anawana from Salute Your Shorts (You know you know it, so sing it with us — “We run, we jump, we swim and play….”) As the old showbiz saying “everything old is new again” begins to cannibalize itself—reboots, remakes, and reimaginations of old TV shows and movies have become so common they’re no longer creatively adventurous, but a tired trend—nostalgia-mandated resurrections of pop culture mainstays have begun to reliably trade rampant fan excitement for woeful disappointment.

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. There are the shows that fans’ enthusiasm brought back from the dead, like Arrested Development, that failed miserably at re-conjuring the magic of the original outing.

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.

There are cult staples like Veronica Mars that fans were so insistent come back for another go-round that they even invested in its revival on Kickstarter—literally putting their money where their mouths are—but then still ignored the movie when it hit theaters. 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.

Then there are family-friendly classics like Boy Meets World and the upcoming Full House that are brought back to life by the adults that fondly remember watching while kids, but who then criticize the revival’s content for not aging with them. Scroll down for your camp orientation. “Susie did not expect that her entire world would crash down around her within the confines of the very first day of summer camp, but it does.

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.

Whether it’s this new crop or the original counselors, there is a bit of delirium in seeing these stars, now in their 40s, playing characters that are teenagers—and not even attempting to pull the wool over our eyes. 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. 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. Not only were the likes of Poehler, Cooper, or Banks not box office draws at this point, but their mere presence in a film didn’t carry with them, as it does now, bonus points with critics—cutting some slack for bad material because of their movie star likability. 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. Or Zoolander?) The film was as much a coming-of-age comedy in a canon of films about summer camp as it was a spoof of both genres, and there was something sort of refreshing and pleasing about the slapdash nature of it all: the go-big-or-go-home spirit of throwing various comedy bits at the wall to see which ones would stick. 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.

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. Would Bradley Cooper and Michael Ian Black’s gay sex scene be as legendary as it is now had Cooper not graduated to become a “serious” actor with three Oscar nominations? It’s the fact that these actors—who would go on to become Oscar nominees, some of SNL’s most influential cast members, star in blockbusters, and appear on countless magazine covers—could all reunite for a TV series and there be no other expectation than for it to be juvenile fun. That’s probably why a guest cast that is arguably even more famous than the bold-faced names that appeared in the original gladly signed on to make cameos in the Netflix reboot.

In 2001, there was the excitement of comedy’s most promising talents relishing the opportunity to be set loose and turn a summer camp into their own comedy playground.

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