Netflix dropped their newest original series this past Friday, July 31. Despite working all weekend, I managed to binge watch the shit out of it in between shifts. The series consists of eight half hour episodes, but it really works better if viewed as a four hour movie instead of a TV series.
First Day of Camp is a prequel series to a little indie flick released fourteen years ago. The original Wet Hot American Summer movie was a disastrous flop, a seemingly impossible fact considering the star power the movie was packing. The thing is, most of these actors weren’t really big names yet in 2001. The fact that the Netflix series gets all of these actors (and more) to return is incredible.
Wet Hot American Summer has gone on to become a beloved cult film, and for damn good reason. It’s absolutely hilarious. Check out this scene with Paul Rudd, playing Andy, the camp rebel:
The movie takes place all on the last day at Camp Firewood. The Netflix series is actually a prequel series, with the whole four hour affair taking place on the first day of that very same summer. One of the gags of this entire concept is that the whole cast is playing younger versions of themselves despite having aged fourteen years. As a sight gag, it’s funny as shit, and random moments throughout the show remind you of just how absurd this whole thing is. The thing about the joke, though, is it’s going to be entirely lost on you if you watch the series without first watching the movie.
First Day of Camp is a prequel series, but it acts as a pseudo-sequel in a way. What I mean is, over half of the jokes in the show won’t make sense to you unless you see the movie first. The prequel series spends a lot of time giving origins to everything you see in the movie. Wondering why H. Jon Benjamin voices a can of vegetables? Where did that song “Higher and Higher” come from? How in the world did Victor get his reputation as a ladies’ man? Who’s this Ron guy anyway, and what happened with Gail’s previous husbands? How did McKinley and Ben get together? The series answers all of these things and a lot more. This makes it great for super fans of the original movie–but I can’t imagine that any of these things would make a lick of sense if I hadn’t watched the movie first.
I was worried First Day of Camp wouldn’t carry over the humor of the movie very well. Stretching Wet Hot American Summer into four hours seems like a nigh impossible task, as the film’s strength is its ability to fire a joke a minute and move on in just under two hours. A four hour series might show the humor being strained, I thought. Luckily, I was completely wrong. The series is a great extension of the movie, keeping the spirit and humor alive. I was laughing well into the final episode.
As I mentioned before, the entire cast returns, and I can’t imagine what a scheduling hassle that was. Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Christopher Meloni, Amy Poehler, Michael Ian Black, Joe Lo Truglio, Michael Showalter, Marguerite Moreau, Zak Orth, etc. All of them are here, and it’s glorious to see them all together again. But on top of that, First Day of Camp piles on newcomers! Chris Pine, Michael Cera, Jason Schwartzman, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Lake Bell, John Slattery, and even freaking “Weird Al” Yankovic show up. The best part of all of this is that all of the new additions to the cast feel like natural parts of the Wet Hot American Summer world. It’s hard to believe some of them weren’t in the movie to begin with.
If you’ve never seen the movie and are on the fence about watching the show, my advice is this: watch the movie (it’s on Netflix, too), and if it’s your kind of humor, definitely watch the show. If you’re a fan of the original but are worried the show might diminish the movie somehow, then stop worrying. First Day of Camp is brilliant. Go watch it right away.
My score: A