A week ago, I hadn’t even heard of Wet Hot American Summer. Then I saw a trailer for it and it featured a pretty funny cast from what I saw. I thought ‘this series looks very funny’. I checked it up but it only came up with a 2001 film. I was unsure if the trailer was for Netflix adding it to their lineup. It had the same cast, but I decided to make sure. I discovered that a few days ago, a tv series tying into the film, featuring the same cast. I assumed this the tv series came out this year, that is was a sequel, so I watched the film first. The film was somewhat funny, but it felt like it was just falling short of what it wanted to be. It was a teen film with actors who clearly weren’t teens. At one point, I got bored and wanted to move on to the tv series, but then I remembered that it was a sequel and I wouldn’t understand the show if I hadn’t seen the full film. At one point there was a line about meeting “10 years from now” and I definitely thought that that would be what the show was about, with 2015 being only 4 years over that mark. I thought it would be like American Pie Reunion, but it was so much better than that. The tv series (with the actors having aged 14 years) was a prequel.
The show is possibly one of the most successful television satires I’ve seen and it somehow manages to bring big screen comedy to the small screen in ways nobody was expecting. One major example of this is how riddled with high name actors this show is. Some have been relegated to small roles, just like in a comedy film. Of course a lot of that comes from how these actors were in the film beforehand. It was actually a lot of fun to see their progression as they all went on to higher places, but came back for the show.
Instances of this include Paul Rudd (who had been doing some great stuff when the film came out, but only really rose to fame after with Friends, Anchorman, The 40 Year Old Virgin and recently Ant Man), Bradley Cooper (who had only 3 films before the original film, before jumping to fame with films like the Hangover films, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, American Sniper and Guardians of the Galaxy), Amy Poehler (moving on to Saturday Night Live, Mean Girls and most recently Parks and Recreation, Inside Out and Sisters), Kevin Sussman (Stuart from The Big Bang Theory), Joe Lo Truglio ( jumping headfirst into Superbad, Pineapple Express, Role Models, Paul, Community and Brooklyn Nine Nine), Christopher Meloni (recently appearing in Man of Steel and 42) and Elizabeth Banks (who, after the film, appeared in the Spider Man film series, The 40 year Old Virgin, Role Models, Scrubs, The Hunger Games film series, 30 Rock, the Pitch Perfect films, The LEGO Movie and Modern Family among others).
Then of course there’s the returning cast that, while not doing many significant projects, are still comedy gold, such as David Hyde Pierce (Niles in Frasier) and Marguerite Moreau, among others. The film was also, like any good comedy film, rife with guest stars like John Slattery, Chris Pine, Michael Cera, Jordan Peele, Weird Al Yankovic and Kristen Wiig. All in all, the cast was incredibly strong, but that wasn’t why I thoroughly enjoyed this piece.
This show managed to make incredible use of the Netflix format, which encourages binging. While other shows have done this by having no really intense cliffhangers and keeping the same sort of plotlines running throughout, this show does something completely different. All the episodes are set during one day. The entire show is the progression of the first day at Camp Firewood. The entire show is so incredibly surreal in nature that it just hooks the audience immediately with its many comedic appeals.
With all the intelligent meta commentary of Community, the surreal nature of Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, the teen drama of American Pie, the pessimism of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Family Guy and even Frasier, the everyday absurdity and somewhat stupid humour (not a bad thing at all) of Brooklyn Nine Nine and Anchorman, the politically correct yet rude humour of Parks and Recreation and Modern Family and the raunchy comedy feel of all the recent big budget comedy films (eg. the Ted films, the Hangover films and the Horrible Bosses films), Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is comedy gold, playing off comedy itself. Although, given the wide variety of comedic types mixing together, I can fully understand how this series mightn’t be to everyone’s tastes.
I enjoyed how the characters in the show were less forgettable then in the film, but make no mistake, don’t miss out on the film. While there are some ok parts, it ends leaving you wanting more and realizing that it was actually a great film. The show just makes you want even more. The first episode, just like the first act of the film, feels a little too normal and teen comedy-esque, not really providing many funny jokes, but by the second episode, the audience is thrown into a world of corrupt government agents, hitmen and toxic sludge that empowers beings. The series acts as a way of getting a bearing on these character’s origins and that’s what makes it so fun when watched in conjunction with the film.
One major part of the show is watching the character’s progress over a day (as it was in the film, albeit with less screentime to do so) and the show delivers some great character moments, action and comedy.
The overarching theme of the series (and even the film) is youth and the breaking of stereotypical age limitations. The actors blatantly address the fact that most of them are at least over 30 years over the age of the characters that they’re playing. This sense of fun is what makes the series so great. They could very well do a second season chronicling the second day at camp years from now and it would still make perfect sense given the internal logic of the show.
It does slightly fall short in terms of laugh out loud moments in the beginning, but once the strangeness takes over, it definitely makes up for it. If it doesn't become a massive hit, it's definitely going to be going down through time as a cult classic.
The soundtrack is also masterfully done and ‘Higher and higher’ is such a great song.
This film isn’t only a satire of teen films (playing around with the archetypes and stereotypes of the genre) and comedy films (among parodying common tropes in other genres), it’s a satire of itself, mocking aspects of the film. It integrates the same opening scene and the onscreen text doesn’t care how old it looks. It’s just trying to be fun. It plays with expectations, just like how the film played with expectations of a raunchy comedy. In terms of comedy, the show feels both old and new. If the film was an ambitious dream for a revolutionary comedy that fell sort of short of perfection, the show was the full realization of that dream.
The show has definite rewatch value and I’d give it a 9.5/10
So check out Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp whenever you can on Netflix. It’s a fun, out-there comedy-satire that I’m sure so many people will enjoy.