Netflix Now: Wet Hot American Summer - First Day of Camp

Mike reviews the latest Netflix series. 

"Good thing we wore deodorant today."
Bradley Cooper. Amy Poehler. Paul Rudd. Elizabeth Banks. These are just a few of the names listed pretty far down in the credits of the 2001 film Wet Hot American Summer. At the time of the film's release, Janeane Garofalo and David Hyde-Pierce had their names atop the marquee, and the rest of the cast was filled in by quite a few very game up-and-coming actors and comedians. Many of these were close personal friends of writer-director David Wain, co-creator of the sketch comedy TV series The State and Stella. Though the film was initially a box office failure, it gained a cult following on home video, a following that grew as many of the original cast members' stars rose. The film's 10th anniversary came and went quietly, though the stars continued to field questions about a reunion many were certain would never come.

Finally, in 2014, Wain announced that we'd soon be returning to Camp Firewood, in the form of a TV series on Netflix. Naturally, the question on everyone's minds was "Would EVERYONE be back?" After all, many of the relatively unknown young actors had gone on to do some pretty big things, earning Oscar and Emmy nominations and starring in blockbuster films. Even Wain himself had gone Hollywood, directing films like Role Models and Wanderlust. Fans of the original film will be relieved to know that the entire original adult cast has returned to Camp Firewood. Plus they've brought some new friends along.

The series is actually a prequel to the original movie, set on the first day of the season that concludes in the film. Which is more or less the joke, as actors in their '30s and '40s are now playing the same teenagers we saw 12 years ago. Remarkably, most of them have aged pretty well. It's not difficult to see why everyone wanted to come back, as the entire cast appears to be having a blast reprising their roles. The newcomers fit in pretty nicely as well, and some (who this reviewer won't fully reveal) even get to have some pretty significant roles.

"Boy, I hope those Limitless pills help
me remember how to play this song."
The 8 episode series has a surprisingly complex overarching plot (several of them, actually) but still manages to maintain the simple spirit of the film. Being on Netflix also allows the filmmakers to maintain most of the irreverent humor in the original. However, this occasionally works against the series. Characters and situations that thrived in a 90-minute film get stretched a bit thin when expanded across 8 half-hour episodes of a TV series. The series also forsakes some of the twisted randomness of the film in favor of sticking with the larger narratives. The cameos are fun but some feel a bit shoehorned in and distracting, as if the characters were created as an excuse to include the actors. Still, most of what made the original so much fun is back, which is all any of us could have asked for.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp isn't perfect. The format of a TV series forces it to stick a bit too rigidly to its storylines, and the viewer can't help but think about what might have been. But there's still a lot of satisfying fun to be had at Camp Firewood. Everyone involved is game and having a great time, and because of this so does the viewer. It may not be the Camp Firewood that we remember, but it's still a pretty fun and satisfying First Day of Camp. And hopefully it won't be the last day we get to spend there.


-Mike Stec

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