Review: Netflix’s ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’

I often think of Hollywood as like cliques in high school.

There’s the A-list/popular group (think: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie), the B-list group (Vince Vaughn, Kate Hudson), the stoners (James Franco, Seth Rogen, and the gang), and the class clowns, which includes pretty much everyone in Wet Hot American Summer. And of all these groups, I’d want to hang out with the Wet Hot crowd.

Fifteen years ago in Wet Hot American Summer, director David Wain managed to assemble a ragtag team of up-and-comers who would become some of the most influential actors and actresses working in movies and television today. So while there’s a lot of anticipation with the Netflix series prequel First Day of Camp, there’s also a lot of star power going into it, which enhances the expectations exponentially.

I thoroughly enjoyed all eight episodes of WHAC:FDOC. It was great seeing the gang back together to battle government conspiracy and Camp Tigerclaw. But the series is not as edgy or absurd as what has become a cult classic. For example, instead of letting Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) simply be a stupid teenage counselor who smells like burgers and just wants to make out, the Netflix series gives her a backstory: She’s a 24-year-old Rock and Roll World reporter who sneaks into camp to cover the “world” aspect of the rag. This storyline feels like it was written only because Wain realized he has Hunger Games’ Elizabeth Banks in his movie now (although the Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper gets minimal lines and phones in his role).

Many of the characters are still true to the original. Christopher Meloni’s Gene is a stand-out as a crazed Vietnam vet/chef, and we learn a bit more about his origin story. Even David Wain’s Israeli soccer instructor Yaron is a welcome new character, as the foil to Gerald Cooperberg (Michael Showalter). The series also channels a bit of Hamlet 2 by putting on a musical called Electro City, which stars Andy (Paul Rudd) and Katie (Marguerite Moreau) and includes a prison electrocution scene.

As much as it’s a miracle that all of the actors came back to reprise their roles in a film that was deemed a failure, it’s an even bigger miracle how little most of them have aged in 15 years (though Michael Showalter has changed the most, which makes his role as a teenager even more hilarious). Whereas Arrested Development’s Netflix series clearly seemed like a piecemeal creation, with most actors not together for scenes, this series works better in pairing off characters and making it still seem like everyone was at camp.

But what’s lacking most in this series is the goofy crassness of the original. At times, this series is a straightforward summer camp story, especially with the love-lorn Kevin (David Bloom). Granted, there’s a storyline about toxic waste turning someone into a can of vegetables, but this series is missing the little lines and ticks that made the first one so quoteworthy. No one’s humping a fridge or fondling sweaters. And the final episode includes a showdown that the first film would have deemed kind of trite.

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