Manny Camacho reviews Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp…
Normally I have my ‘Good, Bad, and Ugly’ breakdown in my reviews but I’m foregoing my normal process for this series. Because that would presume there is significant material for me to write to fill in the sections for ‘Good, Great…And Amazing’ – which there really is not. The only saving grace (if you want to say there is one) is Elizabeth Banks and Paul Rudd.
This series is so forceful in its attempt at humor I continually kept wondering if my own sense of humor had melted away–lost in time or if there was something inherently wrong with this show. In one example (early on) Molly Shannon had a strange dance routine (not really strange as she always break out into dance in her skits), ending it with what appeared to be the old Superstar dance move. Giving me a burning feeling that I will be cheated; that this series was essentially going to rehash a variety of sketches from the varied celebrities within its ensemble cast. A near-exact repeat of the same cast from 14 years ago. The same cast having strong presence from Saturday Night Live, The Kids in the Hall and The Slate. This was likely the players holding on to a project–that although universally a commercial failure still has some cult following and allowed them the fantasy of attempting to bring this material back to life…whether properly (as if it was done wrong in 2001) or better—I have no clue.
Wet Hot American Summer is more so an indictment of people from the 80’s, Generation X to be more specific. It reminded me of an old set of films like Meatballs and Better Off Dead.
There is something inherently wrong, either with me, or with this series when in the first two episodes I’m struggling to find any humor…a chuckle, an involuntary reflex allowing me to enjoy what I’m hearing and seeing. Something that would lead me to believe in the studio process of pitching a pilot that sucks you in and holds you until the season finale. Moments I never found. Truly—the only moments that triggered any kind of synaptic fire in my brain were a few of the nasty little boys and how they continually found new insults for one of the newest camp members. As juvenile as that read in your mind it is seemingly insulting to me as an adult that what essentially made me laugh is something relatively immature. Those jokes should have been in itself more benign. However—watching this annoying little boy pop off, a ginger no less…a perfect stand in for the old adage “beaten like a red-headed step child” make ridiculous and relatively interesting insults is what seemingly moved me momentarily to grin.
When that is the only humor found amid what appears to be amazing writing for simpletons I of course do and should feel insulted. Who the hell is this series for? It’s certainly not, in any sense of the phrase, for those who enjoy coming of age stories. It’s not for younger teens, is it only for the few people that saw the film in 2001? Is it for the much older Gen X crowd? Is it for stoners? I doubt it, this isn’t really a stoner comedy—at least not without the aid of recreational drugs. I don’t say that as an indictment, enjoy your drugs in whatever form you take tham. But this is pretty much entertainment geared toward you. #SorryNotSorry.
There are even intentional holes on plot and editing, which makes me wonder if they had an interesting concept on paper but had absolutely no follow through. Moments like in Episode 6 Bill Marston pulls out an iPhone 6…isn’t this 1981? McKinley asks “What’s that metal thing in your hand?”
There is something awkwardly wrong with this kind of comedy in 2015. The original film has some cult following after its original 2001 release failed horrifically. Barely getting a theatrical release of 30 screens and only being sold for $100,000 after its Sundance screening. The original film is forceful of these tropes at best. I cannot (could not then, still can’t now) wrest images from the 80’s film Meatballs from my mind. I know I mentioned that above but it keeps popping in my head. However, Meatballs at least worked on some level in the 80’s and honestly it likely is good that it stays back there.
At the end of the 3rd episode, after the head of the camp was apparently mutated into a can of vegetables…I had almost completely given up on Wet Hot American Summer and of course continued on hoping that it was just an awkward start. I was ruing the day I volunteered to write this review. I was in full rue! Surely, Gary Collinson has to be laughing his ass off from across the pond thinking I’m a cheeky American. #GaryCollinsonForPresident
I was wrong to think this series would get any better. It continued to—what felt like—shovel more clichés, horrifically & inaccurately stereotype the 80’s, and it very poorly had numerous actors return to a property that never really needed a prequel, nor a sequel, nor any form of repeat financing. I honestly am unable to say the ensemble cast phoned in their performances. I almost want to say they intentionally and intrinsically performed as they did thinking this was funny or perhaps because they couldn’t care less…#HoneyBadgerActing
Perhaps I’m completely wrong in everything I think is good television. Perhaps I’ve become the kind of viewer and critic I hate most…like a cranky dinosaur raging against the comet and the change it brings with this kind of storytelling. But to be honest if not an egotist. I don’t think I’m wrong at all.
A few of my friends and colleagues were disappointed at some of my early ramblings on social media regarding my earliest thoughts on this series. These people were fans of the original film and were hoping that I would give it another chance because perhaps I was overly harsh. But it turns out a few of them (prior to completing this piece) sadly have shared in my pain. Because this is roughly 8-10 hours of my life I lost; I did view it twice to make sure I didn’t miss anything and to give it a fair shake. I also went back and reviewed the original film.
Going through the original 2001 film and trying to get a sense for this series is really not necessary as this is a prequel based on that film but takes place completely on the first day of the camp. Where the film takes place completely on the last day of the camp.
For a brief instance I was interested in a fight scene, regardless of how ridiculous, between Christopher Meloni and Jon Hamm. On the surface part of me wants to laugh and as I chuckled for a second the fight ended randomly and then spiraled into a further nonsensical plot twist that felt improvised for the sake of not knowing what was happening during an actual shoot. As if they ran out of script and decided to spoof around on set while the camera was still rolling. A scene that still was approved by a group of people from the director, writer, producer, and studio. Leaving very little for anyone who was part of that process to argue they had no knowledge of it.
Story wise it’s not really a Netflix Original. It’s a prequel take from the film and the extrapolation of this material was extremely hard to follow. The acting feels intentionally poor for the sake of maintaining the 80’s feel. The concept is exceptionally juvenile. I can’t really think of any other audience enjoying this series except for those people (mentioned above) too high on any number of drugs of choice who usually indulge in the same kind of garbage found on late night Adult Swim programming such as Tom Goes To The Mayor or anything with Tom and Eric that continues to air on Cartoon Network.
I know this review is a very heavy handed rip and tear of Wet Hot American Summer. But even in the summer time when original programming is at its lowest there are vastly superior series available to view over this poorly remade series. Were I using my normal rating system that I use for other websites I’d be giving this a 1.0 Geeks will enjoy this because they are biased to the original film in some way. A 1.0 is my rating for Awful and personally I feel irritated with Netflix. I expect far better original work that is vastly superior to what we normally get from other networks and premium cable services. I can stick to Cartoon Network if I want poor quality mindless garbage produced for stoners mid body-lock to view at 1:00 AM.
If you want original content from Netflix, stick to House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, or Lillehamer; amid other great series and films you can find there (the list is vast and numerous). I love Netflix and it pains me to see such poor quality work showcased on their network. You can do better Netflix! You have the quality and the people. You owe us a few hours of good original material after we wasted our lives watching this show.
Manny Camacho is a Miami, Florida based award winning writer and award winning independent film producer whose current novel, I Think? No, I’m Sure…God Hates Me, is available on Amazon. His next Novel Life | Face | Punch releases September 2015. Follow him on Twitter @EmanuelFCamacho and on Facebook