Miniseries: “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” (2015)

Director: David Wain
Writers: David Wain & Michael Showalter
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Michael Ian Black, Bradley Cooper, Judah Friedlander, Janeane Garofalo, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Christopher Meloni, Marguerite Moreau, Zak Orth, David Hyde Pierce, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman, Molly Shannon, Michael Showalter, Chris Pine, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Michaela Watkins, John Slattery, Josh Charles, Randall Park, Lake Bell, Michael Cera, David Wain, Samm Levine, Bruce Greenwood, Richard Schiff, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Jordan Peele, Jayma Mays.

Wet Hot American Summer, the movie, came out in July of 2001. The film grossed just shy of $300,000 on a $1.8 million budget – it definitely was not a commercial success. Ten years when the filmmakers asked Universal to release a special edition DVD to commemorate the tenth anniversary the studio flatly refused. At the time of the premiere the biggest stars in the cast were David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, and Christopher Meloni. Paul Rudd and Janeane Garofalo had had some success, but their stars were not shining at their brightest at this particular moment. Others in the cast, including Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler and Elizabeth Banks, were completely unknown actors – and were never heard from again. All jokes aside, at the time of release  the cast was definitely indie and did not consist of a single bankable actor to draw an audience to the multiplexes going up against Jurassic Park III, Planet of the Apes, Legally Blonde, The Others, Rush Hour 2, American Pie 2, and The Princess Diaries (yes, all these movies came out within a month of each other. Also WHAS (easier and shorter to write this way) was only played in 30 US cities, hardly a recipe for success. The story itself was a hard sell as well. Taking place in 1981, the plot centers around the last day of summer camp and the lives of a group of teenage camp counselors and workers. These teenagers? Played by the aforementioned cast (and a few more little known names) whose actual ages spanned from 24 all the way to 40 years old, obviously part of the joke. The film was purposefully overacted and exaggerated, satirical and comedic in a way that audiences in the target demographic were not really used to (more accustomed to gross-out coming of age teen sexcapades). All in all the film did disastrously and quietly went away. The cast, though, did not and many became household names, reached levels of fame they never could have imagined, and one (Cooper) even went on to be nominated for three Academy Awards.

Fourteen years later Netflix decides to develop an eight episode prequel to this movie, causing even the original movie’s fans (this writer included) to raise a collective eyebrow at the bizarre decision. Sure, the movie had gained a cult following, but even that was not very fervent or vocal in their support of this very little seen flick, but once again Netflix manages to silence the naysayers and allow the talent to produce something inspired, hilarious, and just simply fantastic. David Wain, the director of the original movie, is back directing all of the season’s episodes as well as co-writing and co-producing the series with his show-business partner of over two decades Michael Showalter. The series is a prequel of sorts. It takes place in the same summer, but instead of the last day of summer camp, as the title obviously makes clear, all the action occurs on the first day when the campers and counselors arrive at Camp Firewood. Amazingly, the entire original cast of the film is back for the series.

Joining the actors from the film are some of the best and brightest comedic (and beyond) actors who lend their talents to the show, including: Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, Chris Pine, and Jason Schwartzman. The show should not work, but it totally does. It is more over the top than the film, the acting more exaggerated than ever before, the plot lines more absurd and satirical, and the fact that now the cast is fourteen years older yet playing technically younger characters just makes things more hilarious and sort-inducing. Wether it’s the counselors and campers mounting on a musical for the first night welcome show, the “teens” dealing with crushes and first times, or a government sub-plot that may be the end of the camp everyone involved seems to be having the best time ever and that glee is contagious resulting in highly entertaining scenes and sequences you never want to see end. I laughed my way through the whole show. As a fan of the movie I was worried about the tone, but that was immediately unfounded as they all recaptured the magic of the original without skipping a beat. I was also apprehensive of setting a whole season around just one day. When How I Met Your Mother tried to do the same thing in its last season things didn’t turn out too well. It’s also hard to reunite a large cast years after the original project and schedule around their higher profile and busier schedules (the let down of the fourth season of Arrested Development still is a sore spot for many) – and yet Wain and Showalter et al managed just fine. WHAS: FDoC is a delight and this is one fan who is really hoping and looking forward to another go around the campfire.

P.S. The movie is also available on Netflix.

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