“I can’t be your buddy. Go ask one of the inhaler kids if you can’t find anyone.”
Welcome to Camp Firewood, 1981, setting for the prequel to the little seen cult comedy Wet Hot American Summer, home to toxic waste dumping grounds, mysterious rock stars and the bonds of friendship associated with any self-respecting summer camp. If the decision Netflix made to reunite the star-studded cast of the 2001 movie – which made measly returns at the box office – seemed odd on its announcement, it’s a decision which I’m glad to report was fully justified, because First Day of Camp is a riot from start to finish.
Fourteen years previous when Wet Hot American Summer released its cast were but a mere collection of up and comers, who in the years since have amassed numerous Oscar nominations (Bradley Cooper), starred in hit TV shows (Amy Poehler) and joined juggernaut franchises (Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd). And that’s just four of the stacked line-up. Joining them and the rest of the returning cast, the series adds to its impressive collection of comedy names with fantastic cameos from the likes of Michael Cera as a bumbling lawyer who is unbeaten in public urination cases, and the unashamedly slutty Courtney, played by Kristen Wiig. The material is undoubtedly some of the silliest they all will have worked with, but you certainly can’t accuse the cast of not being committed, and its the sincerity of it all that results from this which makes First Day of Camp the success it is.
Under no circumstances is it to be taken seriously; it’s tongue in cheek, utterly ridiculous and at times purposefully nonsensical, but crucially its jokes land far more often than not (barring one or two slightly slower episodes later in the run), and the cast of characters playing out the story are an incredibly loveable bunch. Those of us that have had the pleasure of working at summer camp know the importance of the friendships made with fellow counsellors and campers, and its those bonds that First Day of Camp is ultimately about, and that make it relatable. On top of that you can add a healthy dosage of romance, government conspiracy, camp rivalries, and a talking vegetable can – things that were certainly less prevalent at my camp, but which nonetheless are all pulled off with an unflinching absurdity, ensuring that they never feel anything less than entirely fitting at Camp Firewood.
Thankfully it’s all very self-aware. It is, after all a prequel to a film shot 14 years prior to its release, starring the same (considerably older-looking) cast, which only lends to its charm. There’s plot holes aplenty, but writers/creators Michael Showalter and David Wain aren’t afraid to put these front and centre, instead using them as another layer to their gloriously ’80s spoof on all things summer camp.
Whilst Paul Rudd steals the show as the super cool Andy, Wet Hot American Summer newcomer Jon Hamm’s contract killer Falcon is quite incredible also. It’s Hamm’s second comedic showing of the year for Netflix (following his role in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), and his Mad Men co star John Slattery joins in the fun too, cranking up the sleaze levels a notch or five. Though the characters on the whole are little more than archetypal teenagers it’s to each actor’s credit that they all manage make their mark on First Day of Camp and leave a lasting impression. Camp Firewood sure is a fun place to be.
The grumpier audience members may begrudge its non-stop silliness, but then they can go and hang out with the evil Camp Tigerclaw campers instead.
It has this line in it, what’s not to like?:
“You throw like a girl snake, which is a double suck, because it’s a girl and it doesn’t have arms!”
Netflix has another winner on its hands. Head on over to Camp Firewood, where rock and roll is alive and well, and friendship is all you need to have the summer of a lifetime.
Rating (out of 5):