TV: Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

first-day-of-campOf all Netflix’s series so far, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp has to be its most peculiar project. This eight-episode series resurrects a 2001 movie that wasn’t all that good in the first place, but since the cast and crew is full of people whose work I generally like, I gave it a go. Alas, it’s as unspectacular as the original, playing out so disposably I totally forgot to write about it when we finished it weeks ago.

Inspired by the cheesy, ribald camp comedies of the 1980s, Wet Hot American Summer works, when it works at all, by reveling shamelessly in its silly badness. This prequel series recaptures that feel perfectly, which is to say it’s quite silly and often quite bad. Whereas in the original film, a cast full of too-old actors pretend to be horny, angsty, partying teenagers in a run-down summer camp, the series takes place before the film, with the very same, now-fortysomething actors pretending they’re even younger, and doing very much the same things. It’s funnier in concept than in reality, although it’s all breezy enough, and there are highlights, like Paul Rudd’s pitch-perfect pose as a cool jerk and a rather adorable love affair between Michael Ian Black and Bradley Cooper. It also has a good time lampooning the tired Hollywood tropes of 1980s filmmaking (something it does decently; Danger 5′s brilliantly difficult-to-watch second season does it far better). An Eddie and the Cruisers side plot involving Elizabeth Banks and Chris Pine provides amusing throughline momentum, and a Verdict-like courtroom drama episode featuring Michael Cera as the David to a corporate legal Goliath is one of the show’s strongest episodes. Everyone looks like they’re having a great time making it, at least, and the overall concept is funny in a low-key, so-bad-it’s-okay kind of way. But overall it’s a scattershot blend of situational sketch comedy that throws everything at the wall to see what sticks. Not enough sticks to warrant a whole-hearted recommendation.

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