Wet Hot American Summer came out in 2001 and became an immediate cult classic, beloved not only for its weirdly on-point, if entirely fantastical depiction of life the average American summer camp, but also, later, for its incredible cast. Most notably, it kind of introduced the world to Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Bradley Cooper, Christopher Meloni, the voice of H. Jon Benjamin, Juda Friedlander, Joe Lo Truglio, Molly Shannon, and… well, actually pretty much this entire core cast went on to achieve some level of fame and success. It also doesn’t hurt that the movie’s really, really funny.
Nothing at all about Wet Hot American Summer ever demanded any sort of sequel, epilogue, prequel, follow-up, reboot, or additional material at all whatsoever. It enjoyed a flawless and lonesome existence for quite some time as an odd, silly gem, but lately, as with action movies and cop shows from the 80s and earlier, beloved comedies from the last fifteen years have been subject to sequels. Anchorman 2 disappointed about as much as you’d expect it to, and I can’t bring myself to have high hopes for the upcoming 2oolander, and I had a hard time imagining the necessity of Netflix’s new original series Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.
The Plot: Where the film took place entirely on the last day of summer at Camp Firewood in 1981, the new series, over the course of eight episodes, tells the story of the first day of that very same summer. All the same characters are here, mostly starting off as completely different people, who we shall enjoy watching transform into their familiar personalities over the course of the series as they get tangled up in romances, drama, Vietnam War flashbacks, and government conspiracies.
Part of the joke of the movie is that all of the actors are so obviously in their thirties, but they’re playing teenagers. It’s executed in a nicely self-aware fashion, commenting on the all too familiar tendency of casting directors to do just that and expect us to believe it. Well, now all the actors are so obviously in their forties, but still playing teenagers and you know what? It’s even funnier. Some people, like Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper, look exactly the same still because they’re movie stars and don’t age like regular people, but for most of the cast the past fourteen years are as palpable as they were on Orlando Bloom in The Hobbit movies, but it’s perhaps funnier here.
We also get some great new characters, also played by big celebrities who just crawled out of the woodwork to pad out an already excessively all-star cast. Jason Schwartzman, Michael Cera, and Jon Hamm all do fantastic jobs in their respective roles. Schwartzman plays pretty much the same guy he plays in Wes Anderson movies and Michael Cera is just himself, down to the crumby suit that doesn’t fit, but in that way they’re both perfectly cast. Jon Hamm plays a badass 80s assassin, proving once again that you can cast him in any role and it will work out just fine. I never thought I’d say that, but I think the best new character is that played by Chris Pine. Never before have I liked or even appreciated Chris Pine; usually if he incites any emotion at all from me, it’s negative, but damn, he just did an excellent job as a washed up grungy proto-punk rocker living the life of a hermit on the outskirts of a children’s summer camp.
Of course, the humor is much the same style as that of the film, as you’d hope and expect, but where so many comedy sequels get bogged down in fan-serving repetition (see Anchorman 2 again), this series recalls its old gags but mixes them with brilliant new jokes. Rather than just repeating itself over and over again, Wet Hot American Summer strives instead to preserve the tone and sense of humor of the source and, as such, is just as funny. Did it need to come into existence? No, not at all. Am I glad it did? Oh yeah.
Plus, it uses this Jefferson Starship tune as the theme music, which is great, because it is such a jam.