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More in-jokes and references in WHAS: First Day Of Camp, explained (part 2)

Just yesterday, we tackled all the Easter eggs and Fantasy Island references embedded in the first four episodes of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp. Today, continuing that trend, we’re rounding out the series, tackling everything from “Dinner,” “Electro/City,” “Staff Party,” and “Day Is Done.”

Episode 5, “Dinner

3:25: A climactic lift straight out of Dirty Dancing

Electro City, the musical at the heart of Susie (Amy Poehler) and Ben’s (Bradley Cooper) theatrical dreams, involves a Dirty Dancing-style lift that Andy (Paul Rudd) cannot seem to master, prompting him to almost quit the play. That lift is legendary for anyone who attended a slumber party post-1987. After not being able to complete the lift in previous practices, Baby (Jennifer Grey) and Johnny (Patrick Swayze) finally complete a successful maneuver during their final performance, set to the Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’ soundtrack classic “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.” [Molly Eichel]


7:40 Gail’s wise campers


In the movie, it’s clear that Gail (Molly Shannon) could benefit from some therapy, which comes in the form of a wise little boy in her arts and crafts session. Gail’s deep-seated issues become clear in First Day Of Camp, and a different wise young camper provides some love advice that sounds like it came straight from a motivational poster. “Sometimes to forgive is to set a prisoner free. You need to realize… that prisoner is you. When you point a finger at someone, there’s three fingers pointing back at you.” Plus, Gail’s hasty marriage announcement on the last day of camp makes a lot more sense, now that we know about her propensity for nuptials. [Laura M. Browning]

9:12: The introduction of Jim Stansel


That First Day Of Camp’s lawyer is named Jim Stansel is no accident. David Wain and Michael Showalter gave Michael Cera’s character the moniker because it was an off-hand made-up name that Janeane Garofalo’s Beth used in the first film. The name didn’t come out of nowhere in 2001, either. As Wain explained in a 2012 Reddit AMA, his dad worked with a guy named Jim Stansel back in the ’70s and that name has just always stuck with him. [Marah Eakin]

13:28: Victor Pulak’s crippling fear of jumping over low objects


As viewers of the original Wet Hot American Summer know, Ken Marino’s Victor Pulak can’t seem to manage to jump over really low-to-the-ground things, for whatever reason. In the first movie, he has trouble traversing a bale of hay laid across a road, and in First Day Of Camp, he has to face down the horror of a low-lying branch. [Marah Eakin]

16:16: Michael Cera as a fallen-on-hard-times lawyer, just like Paul Newman in The Verdict

The grizzled old lawyer pulled out of obscurity to take on the case of a lifetime was best personified by Paul Newman’s heavy-drinking lawyer in 1982’s The Verdict. The casting of Michael Cera as Jim Stansel (see above) is inspired, as he’s clearly several decades too young for the part (as well as too small for his suit). But as Cera so often does, he gamely rises to the challenge, offering to fix parking tickets and owning up to his nickname, Johnny Pisspot. Stansel then agrees to take on the biggest government conspiracy since Watergate, which was seven years ago. [Gwen Ihnat]


19:25: “Betty Buckley gave me this pasta recipe.”

Betty Buckley was best known to 1970s TV audiences as Abby, the step-mom on family dramedy Eight Is Enough. But Buckley had a long stage history behind her before she walked onto the small screen, most notably in her Tony Award-winning role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. So it makes sense that she would have crossed Broadway (or off-off Broadway) paths with Claude Dumet (John Slattery) long enough to at least offer him a pasta recipe. [Gwen Ihnat]


Episode 6, “Electro/City

5:10: “It’s a little chilly in here.”

And with those words, Kevin and Drew both offer Amy their sweatshirts, a tactic adopted (then withdrawn) by Coop when he’s in the barn with Katie in the film. [Dan Caffrey]


24:52: “My revival of Dreamcoat is going to be at the Winter Garden.”

Dumet’s talking about an actual Broadway theater, although it doesn’t look like Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has ever been performed there. [Dan Caffrey]


Episode 7, “Staff Party”

0:41: Bradley Cooper is DJ Ski Mask


As was widely reported, Bradley Cooper was only on-set for one day of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp’s filming, making every scene he’s in a precious gem. Using a dumb gag and a reasonable body double, though, Wain and Showalter found a way to get Cooper’s Ben into more scenes, assigning him the role of “DJ Ski Mask.” All it takes is Cooper saying that’s who he’ll be at the party combined with one shot of him taking off the mask, and viewers are led to believe that’s him messing around on the ones and twos in every shot, never mind that it’s totally not. [Marah Eakin]

4:52: The woman that plays Shari, Neil’s girlfriend, is Joe Lo Truglio’s real-life wife


In introducing Neil’s girlfriend, Shari, First Day Of Camp didn’t go very far in terms of casting, choosing to go with Joe Lo Truglio’s real-life wife of over a year, Beth Dover. But give Dover’s own comedy resume—which includes Childrens Hospital, Burning Love (where she also ended up with Lo Truglio), Big Time In Hollywood, FL, Another Period, and Comedy Bang! Bang!—it feels like a no-brainer that Dover would be in this role, Lo Truglio or no. [LaToya Ferguson]

4:55: A muffled Victor makes a State reference


Original fans of Wet Hot American Summer probably came to the film back in 2001 because they had been fans of The State, the short-lived MTV sketch series much of the movie’s cast starred in. One of that show’s breakout characters was Louie, a one-dimensional guy played by Ken Marino. He’d be in some weird scenario, produce two ping-pong or golf balls, shout, “I wanna dip my balls in it,” everyone in the sketch would love it, and that’d pretty much be it. Even though The State was on more than 20 years ago, fans of the show and of Marino still love that phrase. That’s what makes it so satisfying to hear (albeit barely) Victor yell out Louie’s catchphrase from inside the Round House. State gang, you’ve come full circle. [Marah Eakin]

7:11: “I have a play, Women, Wine, And Why The World Is Round, which is world-premiering at Westbeth.”

Once again, the Wet Hot team has done its dramaturgical research. Westbeth is an actual theater, one that would probably welcome choreographer Rhonda’s (Michaela Watkins) undoubtedly performance art-esque play. [Dan Caffrey]


22:12: “I would trade every birthday party with Steven Tyler, every bump of coke I did with The Oak Ridge Boys, every blowjob I gave to every member of the Little River Band…”

Rock And Roll World journalist Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) has lived hard, considering she’s only 24. She’s been to birthday parties for Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, sure, but she’s also done lines with The Oak Ridge Boys. That group released its sixth LP, Fancy Free, in early 1981 and that record’s single, “Elvira,” has since become the band’s biggest hit.


The Little River Band is an Australian soft rock band that also released its sixth LP, Time Exposure, in 1981. The band’s then-members—Beeb Birtles, Graham Goble, Derek Pellicci, David Briggs, Mal Logan, and Stephen Housden—all presumably have dicks and enjoy blowjobs. [Marah Eakin]

Episode 8, “Day Is Done”

3:45: Gene fondles a sweater


In the climax of episode five, “Dinner,” Jonas Jerguson makes a dramatic transformation into Gene Jenkinson, pulling his familiar cut-off sweatshirt, apron, bandana, and beard from one of those bottomless boxes that litter the Camp Firewood grounds. But the transformation isn’t complete until the beginning of the final episode. When government troops converge on the mess hall they find Gene lying in wait for them, biding the time by participating in a favorite pastime. Christopher Meloni commits to the act beautifully, following up a previous flirtation with a refrigerator by aggressively pawing at a sweater, making it clear he’s fondling the top, not merely petting it. [Erik Adams]

10:34: Cinematic rumbles

The classic depiction of a “rumble” on-screen can best be observed in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film The Outsiders, where the Greasers take on the Socs in one epic battle with switch blades, TV antennas, basically anything they can find. Anchorman (which also featured Paul Rudd) offered its own sendup as all the TV channel news teams battled each other. But First Day Of Camp’s take goes right back to Coppola, give or take a sudden rainstorm: the nighttime setting, the random objects, even J.J. directly quoting Matt Dillon’s Dallas: “You don’t have a rumble without me!” leading to Andy/Ponyboy getting punched in the face. It looks like a fight to the finish, until they’re stopped by… [Gwen Ihnat]


13:46: The rock star on the roof

Chris Pine’s Eric is one of the most effective narrative jaunts of First Day Of Camp. It hints at so much cinematic rock history: a journalist on the trail of a disappearing hermit lead singer (Eddie And The Cruisers), the gritty studio footage, the giant headphones and tape reels. But Eric’s triumphant return on the roof also resembles another movie rock star: Russell of Almost Famous. In that film (in a very similar shot), Russell screams: “I am a golden god” (reportedly a Robert Plant quote) over the crowd that adores him, and triumphantly jumps into a pool. Eric wins over the crowd and stops the rumble with his signature song “Higher And Higher” (which WHAS fans first learned to love during Coop’s makeover in the original movie). Eric doesn’t end up as triumphant as Russell, though, as he’s eventually shot down (or… is he?). So like so many movie journalists before her, Lindsay gets her story, but she also gets much more than that, as we learn when she calls her article in to her transcriber. [Gwen Ihnat]


19:42: The early-morning scramble

It would seem that the only way of running from bunk to bunk at Camp Firewood is to run straight to the center, scramble around other campers, and find your own bunk. That’s what happens on both the first and last days of camp, as Firewood’s young gentlemen scramble out of the girls’ bunks shortly before the “Wake upppppp!” call. [Laura M. Browning]


24:18: The ultimate retcon


For all eight episodes of First Day Of Camp, it’s just a visual gag that a bunch of fortysomething actors are playing their twentysomething selves playing teenagers. And then Mitch, as Can Of Vegetables, bestows the title of camp director on Beth. Aside from letting go of their romance—not because Can Of Vegetables is asexual; after all, he can suck his own dick—Mitch/COV also gives Beth a vote of confidence. “You can rejuvenate this place with a new energy. So much so, that by the end of August, everyone will feel like they’re 15 years younger.” 1981 really is going to be the best summer ever. [Laura M. Browning]

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