The Quarantine Stream: 'Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp' Reframes and Enriches the MovieJuly 14, 2020
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Series: Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: 14 years after Wet Hot American Summer became a cult classic, creators David Wain and Michael Showalter got the greenlight from Netflix to make a prequel series which is set weeks before the events of the film. The cast, which includes huge names like Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, and more, still play young adults despite actually being middle-aged.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Most prequels suck. They frequently provide unsatisfying answers to lingering questions we never really wanted the answers to in the first place. But Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp emphatically does not suck. In fact, I contend that it’s one of the best prequels ever made, because it deepens the world presented in the original movie and gives surprising, frequently hilarious answers to questions we never even thought to ask the first time around.
There’s an entire documentary about the making of the original Wet Hot, basically showing how much of a blast it was for up-and-coming actors like Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Michael Showalter, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio, Elizabeth Banks, and more to essentially participate in a camp environment themselves while making the movie. First Day of Camp feels like an excuse to not only get the band back together, but to add several new faces into the mix – people like Chris Pine, Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Jason Schwartzman, Randall Park, Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Kristen Wiig, Josh Charles, and more.
This whole thing could have easily been a navel-gazing disaster, but the sharp writing from Showalter and Wain turns this into a story that’s hilarious on its own, but which also does something that prequels rarely do: it actually enhances your appreciation of the original property. Watching the film – an oddball comedic gem which takes place on the last day of camp in 1981 – knowing that all of the crazy shit that happens in this series took place just two weeks earlier makes the movie even funnier.
The show takes some huge storytelling swings, and most of them connect. Characters are given backstories that totally change how we view them, from a camper having her first period and instantly growing up into one of the camp’s make-out mavens to Elizabeth Banks’ ridiculous but highly entertaining arc as an undercover journalist for a rock magazine. A subplot involving toxic waste being dumped on camp grounds results in a straight-faced explanation of the movie’s talking can of vegetables and also one of the funniest courtroom scenes in recent memory. Throwaway lines from the movie are unexpectedly fleshed out here, from the camp’s relationship with a rival camp next door to a multi-episode arc about a reclusive rock star and the creation of a wonderfully cheesy ’80s anthem that appeared in the original movie.
Fair warning: this style of comedy will absolutely not work for everyone. But if you enjoyed the original movie and haven’t given this a try yet, get ready to laugh as hard as you would during an Alan Shemper stand-up set. The follow-up series, Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later, starts to suffer from the law of diminishing returns, but First Day of Camp builds to a hilarious, fist-pumping crescendo. Personally, I find that treating it like Arrested Development season 3 and pretending that nothing else in the franchise was made after this is the best course of action.
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