Warning: There are some spoilers in the review.
When Wet Hot American Summer hit theaters in 2001, it initially bombed at the box office. Since then, however, it’s practically become a cult hit. With several of its actors (most of which were relatively unknown back then) now having much bigger careers, the long-awaited prequel, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, is just the right mix of nostalgia, ridiculous and absurd humor, and the clever integration of new characters.
Comedy is entirely subjective, its reliability on making people laugh in the moment is one that is hard to do and often hard to judge because senses of humor vary. And to summarize an 8-episode series with so many plot lines happening at once proved to be difficult. The Netflix original series, which precedes the events of the original, takes place eight weeks before the last day of camp. And of course, it’s still 1981! It follows the strange happenings at the camp with focus on Beth (Janeane Garofalo) prior to becoming camp director, Susie (Amy Poehler) and Ben’s (Bradley Cooper) musical theater shenanigans, Coop’s (Michael Showalter) attempt to keep Donna (Lake Bell) as his girlfriend even if she doesn’t seem as committed, and Andy’s (Paul Rudd) cool but weirdly desperate attempt to get Katie to be his girlfriend (Marguerite Moreau) by joining the camp theater.
Hilariously, one of the best story lines involves Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) as a 24-year old undercover journalist. In a nod to the fact that the entire cast is two decades too old to be playing teenage campers (a fact the film and series embraces since in 2001, the cast was still too old to be playing teens), this story line gives us more time with Banks, who had more of a minor role in the film, but is now much more recognized and popular. And she sells the hell out of it. Paul Rudd never disappoints and Janeane Garofalo’s commitment to the camp (it’s the “only family she’s known, outside of her own family”) that sees her through a weird but embraceable government toxic waste chase is admirable. Also explained is the talking vegetable can.
Returning actors include Molly Shannon, Christopher Meloni, and Ken Marino, who all fall back into character like they never left. Additions to Camp Firewood include Jon Hamm, in a hilarious turn as an agent known only as “The Falcon,” Michael Cera as a lawyer defending the camp from the government and… President Reagan (also played by Showalter), Jason Schwartzman as toxic waste licking Greg, and Chris Pine as hidden-away rock artist Eric and Kristen Wiig, among several others.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is an off-beat comedy, where everyone has their weird quirks but they’re lovable regardless. The comedy isn’t always perfect, but is near so and if you are able to binge watch the show then do so because it’ll make the whole thing that much better. The series culminates in what can only be called a memorable finale of stand-offs (against Camp Tigerclaw), music, and friendship. You can watch without having seen the movie, but it really won’t be as fun. Everyone involved allows themselves to be a part of the absurdity of it all, and they pull it off pretty well. A solid and entertaining ode to the original movie (and a funny mockery of ’80s teen movies) without ever becoming predictable or boring. Fans of the movie will love it.