[This is a review of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp season 1, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
David Wain and Michael Showalter’s Wet Hot American Summer follows the counselors during the last day at Camp Firewood in the summer of 1981. When it premiered in 2001, the film was not well-received by critics and didn’t perform well at the box office. However, the comedy has since garnered a cult following and many of the film’s stars have gone on to become more well-known in the realms of comedy and drama since their roles in Wet Hot American Summer.
Last year, Netflix announced Wain and Showalter would be returning to the property by developing an eight-episode prequel series, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. The show welcomes back much of the movie’s main cast, while also adding new characters to Camp Firewood. The first episode, ‘Campers Arrive,’ kicks off in the same manner as Wet Hot American Summer – with the camp staff partying around a bonfire to the tune of Jefferson Starship’s ‘Jane’ – and documents the beginning of the first day of camp: June 24th, 1981.
As expected from a prequel series, some of the premiere episode sets up certain storylines that fans of the movie will recognize. For instance, too-cool-for-school counselor Andy (Paul Rudd) sets his sights on fellow counselor Katie (Marguerite Moreau), though she already has a boyfriend: Blake (Josh Charles) a counselor at Firewood’s rival, Camp Tigerclaw. Though fans already know the outcome of Andy’s courting, watching the beginning of the relationship may be entertaining for fans of the film.
Additionally, ‘Campers Arrive’ introduces the radio-obsessed camper Arty Solomon (voiced by Samm Levine), perhaps better known by his call sign The Beekeeper. Plus, the host of the talent show from Wet Hot American Summer, Alan Shemper (also played by Showalter), is mentioned, much to the delight of the Camp Firewood staff. However, while the premiere episode does offer a certain amount of setup for what viewers know happens on the last day of camp, the show mainly works to introduce storylines unique to the series, though none that feel out of place in the world of Camp Firewood.
Coop (Michael Showalter) spends the premiere episode waiting for his – at least, according to him – girlfriend Donna (Lake Bell) to arrive, while also mentoring a new camper in his bunk, Kevin (David Bloom). Meanwhile, director Mitch (H. Jon Benjamin) is dealing with the day-to-day of running the camp with the help of Greg (Jason Schwartzman) and Beth (Janeane Garofalo). Susie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Bradley Cooper) are putting on a production of Electro City, and have asked former star of the musical Claude Dumet (John Slattery) to mentor their theater troupe. Plus, Victor (Ken Marino) and Neil (Joe Lo Truglio) make a bet as to who can get laid first.
‘Campers Arrive’ also works to establish certain conflicts that will likely disrupt Camp Firewood’s idyllic first day. Blake and his two fellow polo-sporting counselors at Camp Tigerclaw have already demonstrated themselves to be the typical antagonists to Camp Firewood’s unlikely group of misfits. Additionally, the final scene in the episode shows a pair of Xenstar employees dumping cartoonishly-radioactive waste just outside Camp Firewood’s borders. Since these villains were only given a few scenes throughout the premiere episode, it’s difficult to say whether their storylines will pay off further down the line.
As for whether First Day of Camp lives up to Wet Hot American Summer, the series certainly attempts to recapture the humor and the tone that promoted the original to cult status. However, while Wet Hot American Summer was primarily a satire of teen comedies, poking fun at and subverting well-known tropes, often at the expense of an over-arching story, First Day of Camp is forced to adhere more strictly to a solid plotline. So, there has yet to be a trip into town that features multiple counselors falling down a rabbit hole drug abuse, only to return to Camp Firewood unscathed.
Of course, there are still moments that offer the satire seen in Wet Hot American Summer; in one scene between Coop and Kevin, Coop tells a story from his first day of camp, when he challenged a bully to a burping contest, but Kevin already knows all the points of the story. Additionally, the cast of First Day of Camp still bring their now well-known comedy chops to the series; Rudd is again a standout as Andy, while Poehler and Cooper still bounce off each other quite well as Susie and Ben – though this time as a couple.
Although First Day of Camp falls short of the satirical humor that captured fans of Wet Hot American Summer, the series seems to be a good opportunity for fans of the film to spend time with the characters and be introduced to even more members of the extended Camp Firewood family. Plus, raunchy comedy and a long list of guest stars that includes Chris Pine, Jon Hamm, Michael Cera, and many more should keep viewers entertained for all eight episodes.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is currently available in its entirety on Netflix.
Photos: Saeed Adyani/Netflix