David Wain’s “Wet Hot American Summer” is one of those films that was always going to be a cult hit. Its reference points were too reviled or specific, its humor was too outrageous and absurd, and its cast’s commitment to Wain’s vision either made them endearing or unbearable depending on whom you ask. Now, over fourteen years later, much of the cast — including Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, and Paul Rudd — has achieved mainstream success, and the film has had a lasting effect on comedy nerds everywhere. Now, David Wain is releasing his prequel TV series, “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” on Netflix with all of the original cast returning to reprise their roles. Critics who have reviewed the series promise more of Wain’s style of humor, hilarious celebrity cameos, and an insanely complex plot that flatters fans and can be appreciated on its own ridiculous merits. Chances are that if you’re a fan of “Wet Hot American Summer,” David Wain, “The State,” or “Stella,” you’re going to love “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.”
“Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” will be released on July 31 on Netflix.
Reviews of “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp”:
Keith Uhlich, The Hollywood Reporter
“Gotta get back in time,” sang Huey Lewis in a song that postdates the 1981 setting of “Wet Hot American Summer” by four years. But temporal matters have little meaning in the world of the disaster-prone Maine summer camp Firewood, and David Wain and Michael Showalter have set their frequently hilarious eight-episode follow-up (with a noticeably aged and portlier original cast) two months prior to the events of the gut-busting 2001 comedy. That’s part of the joke, of course, and at least in the six episodes sent out for review, no character does any meta-acknowledgment of the wibbly wobbly timey wimey narrative contortions beyond repeatedly insisting that they’re sixteen years old. The result often resembles “Meatballs” by way of Samuel Beckett.
Emily Yoshida, The Verge
When “Wet Hot American Summer” first came out in 2001, it was mostly summarized by critics as a parody of ’70s and ’80s teen sex comedies like “Porky’s” and “Meatballs,” but the deconstruction went further than that. Anyone who has spent enough time with the post-“State” comedy of director David Wain (and his fellow “The State” and “Stella” colleagues Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter) knows that at the foundation of a joke is a complete irreverence for anything that could be taken even vaguely seriously in any other narrative, comedic or otherwise. It goes beyond just mocking a premise or a setup or a cultural trend, “Saturday Night Live” style. Line to line, gag to gag, “Wet Hot American Summer” was an idiotic, puerile, completely brilliant attempt to dismantle the entire grammar of popular storytelling…What makes Netflix’s prequel series “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” so doubly insane is that so much of it is built around trying to explain that nonsense. For anyone who has cultishly memorized every line of the original film, no matter how meaningless (guilty), the rewards are plentiful: Why didn’t Henry get tenure? Who is Jim Stansel — just “that guy”? Why does that can of vegetables speak with Jon Benjamin’s voice? For newcomers — or even people who saw the film once, thought it was weird and funny, and never felt the urge to obsessively revisit it — I have to wonder how much appeal there will be for fan service as all-encompassing as this. Thankfully, there are enough cameos and stunt castings to merit a steady clip of “holy shit’s.” (Most of these have been announced, but even if you’re aware of them I promise they will still pop up when you least expect them, and therefore I feel obligated not to spoil them. Yes, there are three “Mad Men” alums in this show, and they are deployed perfectly.)
Dominic Patten, Deadline
For one thing, this time round, everyone’s in on the joke of the antics from the counselors and kids at a 1981 Maine summer camp. Sure, there’s a story of a sort, but the real treat of “First Day Of Camp” is the cast, almost all of whom have gone on to much bigger things since the movie came out. From “Ant-Man” himself Paul Rudd to Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Christopher Meloni, Michael Ian Black and Elizabeth Banks to the theatre-program coordinators played by Amy Poehler and Bradley Cooper and more, the gang’s all here – and looser and more adolescent than ever, which is pretty impressive for a bunch of 40-year-olds. With a built-in fanbase to play to, the script from Wain and Showalter, who also stars in the movie and the show, is a lot of bad penis jokes, bad rock ‘n’ roll and good times seemingly had by all.
Brian Lowry, Variety
The plot is almost completely beside the point, but the producers seek to putty in how several relationships that existed in the original got started, treating their low-budget comedy (one suspects the craft-services bill this time around trumped the entire prototype) as if it were one of the “Star Wars” prequels. That includes, but is not limited to, a camp-opening stage production, an undercover reporter masquerading as a teen, a trial that goes from interviewing an attorney to courtroom summations in a matter of hours, and a government conspiracy involving toxic waste. As a bonus, that last element allows Showalter to double as Ronald Reagan.
Caryn James, The Wall Street Journal
The writers brought the same sensibility, now more mainstream than it was, to the series. They designed the show to work for viewers who have never seen the original, but also gave major characters back stories. The prequel reveals a secret reason that Elizabeth Banks’s character comes to camp. We see the first kiss between Mr. Cooper’s and Michael Ian Black’s characters, in the one romance that seemed to work out at end of the film. Fans will finally learn why Christopher Meloni’s character, the Vietnam-veteran cook, talks to a can of vegetables. That explanation makes sense in the context of the series’ outlandish plot.
Garrett Martin, Paste Magazine
It’s as delightful and absurd as the original, capturing that same heightened tone pitched somewhere between genre parody and surrealism found in many of David Wain and Michael Showalter’s projects. It’s not just a satire of ’80s summer camp movies, or the Jewish summer camp experience, but of the entire idea of making a movie. It’s a satire of adolescence, of life, of just existing on this planet and using a computer to watch a TV show based on a movie that made no money 15 years ago.
Ben Travers & Liz Shannon Miller, Indiewire
For me, I admit, that could be a big factor in why I didn’t necessarily appreciate the movie on its own merits. (Though even in 2001, I was a big fan of Janeane Garofalo, Paul Rudd and Michael Ian Black, so who knows for sure.) And I will say that on a creative level, I don’t disagree that the show feels like a step down from the movie; certainly it turns out that stretching out the same joke over one hour and 37 minutes plays a lot better than it does over six episodes. But I gotta say, there is a lot of joy in the buckets and buckets of people who were brought in for a quick ridiculous cameo. It’s more than just pretty faces. Though there are plenty of those, too, they get some ridiculous material to play with; I found there were enough really charming moments for me to be entertained overall.What it comes down to, ultimately, is that Showalter and Wain have always been undeniably hilarious people, but in recent years their level of craft has become uneven, due to a lack of real discipline. Undisciplined, in fact, might be the best description across the board for “First Day of Camp.” Good things can sometimes come out of that sort of chaos, but that chaos could use some boundaries.