For those of you who paid close attention to “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp,” you’ll remember Pine’s character, Eric, died in the season finale. He was shot by U.S. government officers led by Ronald Reagan and fell off a roof after singing “Higher and Higher,” but not even the Gipper’s grotesque orders could kill King Pine. He was shown walking down the side of the highway to end “First Day of Camp,” teasing a resurrection explained in “10 Years Later.”
The particulars don’t matter, aside from further illustrating the nonchalant manner in which “10 Years Later” handles its plot. The larger arcs are but a means to an end, and King Pine needed an end by all means necessary. Turning up in Episode 4, Eric’s new backstory is… amazing. To rehash it in words would be a disservice to the montage depicting it. Just know that right before we learn what happened to Eric after the first day of camp, he says an incredibly progressive-minded line in a way only the male co-star of “Wonder Woman” can pull off.
It’s the second best joke of the series; tied, for now, with lethargic bad boy Andy, played by the 48-year-old Paul Rudd, telling the new bad boy of camp, played by the 21-year-old Skyler Gisondo, something horrifically graphic and tremendously funny about the child’s “second worst nightmare.” Rudd remains in top form as the stand-out character from the film, finding new depths to Andy’s simple mind.
But discussing these jokes does them little justice (as hard as we’ve tried to make them entertaining). It’s just important to know how “10 Years Later” differs and compares to its predecessors. No one who liked either (or both) should be upset with what they find in the new episodes, but the comedic alterations help make this TV version more satisfying than the first. “10 Years Later” doesn’t feel crowded, nor does it feel overly conditioned by what came before. Its devil-may-care attitude is aptly encompassed by these jokes and these actors.
Rudd portrays Andy as someone who gives absolutely zero fucks, and the show, at times, feels this way. Then there’s Scott’s meta spin on Ben. The actor plays his new part completely straight, which works doubly well considering he’s the straight man in his main storyline. (McKinley is made into a paranoid protective parent, whom Ben reins in.) But then in comes King Pine, passionate and determined as ever. He overplays Eric’s investment while taking the most preposterous demands of his character seriously.
King Pine nails the tricky tone the movie perfected, the prequel couldn’t sustain, and the sequel embraces ten-fold: silly but focused, confident but nonchalant, and always, always, deeply invested in the character(s).
Long may he reign.
“Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later” is streaming now on Netflix.