Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is the prequel series to David Wain and Michael Showalter’s 2001 cult comedy Wet Hot American Summer. The show was first announced last year, with Wain and Showalter returning to write and direct the eight-episode series for Netflix. Though it went into production more than a decade after the film hit theaters, the show takes place weeks prior to the movie, on the first day of camp, as the title suggests.
Shortly after Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp was announced, Wain and Showalter assured fans of the movie that the cast would return saying, “We wouldn’t have wanted to do it if we couldn’t get everybody.” However, in addition to the already-full cast, who have since gone on to become more well-known in the realms of comedy and drama, First Day of Camp boasts an even larger main cast, with cameos and guest roles from other recognizable actors.
With such a large core group, and more than double the amount of time granted by a two-hour film, First Day of Camp capitalizes on the extended nature of its eight-episode season. The first season features storylines that take place all over the camp including a brewing Firewood vs. Tigerclaw war, a convoluted love triangle of sorts, a government conspiracy, and a musical production put on by the counselors.
As was the case with Wet Hot American Summer, much of the goings on at Camp Firewood are exaggerated to the point of being ridiculous, but often work within the confines of the show. Additionally, since all eight episodes primarily take place within a 24-hour period, First Day of Camp draws on the short timeline for humor by condensing stories into one day that normally would be much longer. Here’s a rundown of the key plots from Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.
Camp Firewood v. Xenstar & The U.S. Government
Perhaps the biggest overarching story of First Day of Camp is that of Xenstar dumping toxic waste near Camp Firewood. This storyline begins with Beth, Greg and the human version of Mitch discovering Xenstar’s toxic waste, which is the culprit for turning Mitch into a can of mixed vegetables. At first Mitch’s transformation seems a bit convenient – even for a series like First Day of Camp – but the story quickly moves on and fans of Wet Hot American Summer may appreciate the can of vegetables’ role in the show.
However, the subsequent lawsuit Beth and Greg bring against Xenstar is more enjoyable to watch as this element of the plot plays exceptionally well into First Day of Camp’s abbreviated timeline. The two meet with their lawyer Jim Stansel (a particularly funny guest appearance by Michael Cera), then Xenstar, and finally go to court later that night. Although many other storylines in First Day of Camp play on the fact that the show takes place in one day, this plot takes advantage of it and uses it effectively for a few self-referential jokes.
One of the best aspects of this plot is the assassin The Falcon targeting Beth and Greg as they attempt to bring down Xenstar. One scene shows him take off his disguise as the hypnotist Jackie Brazen (played by Weird Al Yankovic) while another pits The Falcon against the camp’s cook, Gene, in a knife fight. Though there are plenty of highlights to this particular storyline, The Falcon is certainly a standout.
The end of this plot sees President Reagan attempt to destroy Camp Firewood, though it is resolved quickly as the counselors, particularly Lindsay, prevent the camp’s imminent destruction at the hands of the government. As is the case with many other storylines both in First Day of Camp and Wet Hot American Summer, the quick resolution wouldn’t work on other shows but makes sense within this series.
While Beth and Greg are dealing with Xenstar and Reagan, the counselors are caught up in courtship, sex bets, and confusing love triangles. Even the campers join in on the relationship drama when two boys in Coop’s bunk, Kevin and Drew, fight for the heart a fellow camper. Andy spends his time wooing Katie away from her Camp Tigerclaw boyfriend, Blake; Victor and Neil have a bet to see who can have sex first; Coop is stuck in a strange three-way relationship with his girlfriend Donna and new counselor Yaron; Ben and McKinley bond over working together in the musical; and Gail is set to marry Jonas Jurgensen until she finds out he’s really Gene Jenkinson.
If the Xenstar storyline is a thread stringing all the episodes of First Day of Camp together, then the counselors and campers’ relationships are what fill out much of the season. Certain romances – like those between Andy and Katie as well as McKinley and Ben – will surely provide some entertaining insight into those relationships from Wet Hot American Summer. However, others are not so successfully entertaining, like the relationship between Coop, Donna and Yaron, which attempts to draw humor from its weirdness, but sometimes is just plain weird.
That being said, First Day of Camp effectively pulls off the transformation from Jonas, the clean cut man set to marry Gail, to Gene, the handkerchief-wearing cook fans will know from Wet Hot American Summer. In fact, Jonas/Gene’s scenes from the series, especially his fight against The Falcon in the finale, may be some of the most funny in the whole season.
Of course, the other relationships at Camp Firewood provide plenty of laughs as well, such as Victor’s stumbling over hiding his virginity from Neil and Camp Tigerclaw counselor Courtney’s attempts to win Blake away from Katie. For the most part, the relationships between the counselors act as sometimes-funny, sometimes-earnest character drama amidst all the more unbelievable plot developments.
Teased as the rival to Camp Firewood in Wet Hot American Summer, First Day of Camp offers fans of the film a first look at the camp across the lake. The counselors of Camp Tigerclaw serve as the antagonists to those of Camp Firewood, though they mostly stay in their own camp, only leaving for an all-out brawl at the end of the season. Once Blake sees that Andy has stolen Katie, he rallies the other Camp Tigerclaw counselors to war against Camp Firewood’s staff.
Blake and his fellow counselors work as a satirical representation of the typical antagonist to the group of ragtag misfits that is Camp Firewood. While the counselors are largely underdeveloped and don’t appear very often throughout First Day of Camp, this works to emphasize their role as two-dimensional villains. That being said, the fight is an entertaining end to the conflict – which is also resolved quickly and, this time, through song.
While Camp Firewood puts on a talent show on the last day of camp, the first day is reserved for a musical production starring the counselors. To help them put on the tragic/beloved story of Electro City, Susie and Ben bring in Broadway actor Claude Doumet and his choreographer Rhonda. Throughout the day, while Ben is drawn to McKinley, Susie grows close to Claude and he eventually invites her to go back to New York City with him.
Aside from its part in developing the relationships of Andy and Katie as well as Ben and McKinley, the Electro City musical is largely forgettable. Though fans of the film will likely enjoy Susie and Ben’s return to form in their roles as theater counselors, the process of putting on Electro City did not benefit from First Day of Camp’s short timeline and felt underdeveloped as a result.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp mixes up its storylines, featuring those that will be familiar to fans of the film and new plots for established and original characters. The show is at its best when putting a new spin on characters that appeared in Wet Hot American Summer – as was the case with Gene’s transformation from Jonas. Additionally, the new characters work to fill out the cast of First Day of Camp and provide plenty of compelling interactions with the returning cast members that will surely entertain fans of the film.
Whether because it is a Netflix series or it takes place over course of one day, First Day of Camp works best as a whole piece rather than standalone episodes. Given the overlapping and ongoing plots throughout its season, the series is good for binge-watching, but may not be as conducive to slower watching habits. Essentially, First Day of Camp feels like a longer-form movie, rather than a TV series with episodes that each have their own specific plots.
All in all, First Day of Camp is a fun watch for fans of Wet Hot American Summer as the series returns to beloved characters and features callbacks to favorite jokes. However, while the show does offer plenty of new material, it may not appeal as much to those that haven’t seen the film. That being said, the series works as a prequel by returning to what worked about the film – the cast, the writing, the satire – while offering fans more time with their favorite characters and providing new insight into what was established in Wet Hot American Summer.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is currently available in its entirety on Netflix.
Photos: Saeed Adyani/Netflix