Elizabeth Banks

Wet Hot American Summer the movie has an honest-to-goodness, fleshed out plot, but when people talk about what they loved about the movie, they almost never talk about the plot. They talk about the jokes, and not even the jokes that directly relate to the plot. WHAS is loved for its granular randomness—stuff like the inexplicable mispronunciation of “shool” and “gurnal,” for example—and the plot is secondary. “Campers Arrive” maintains the looseness WHAS is known for, but “Lunch” is the episode in which First Day Of Camp starts to feel more like a proper television show, with a focus more on plot than general sensibility. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it takes some getting used to.

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Plot is becoming more prominent at Camp Firewood as Michael Showalter and David Wain flesh out the characters and their absurd backstories. Lindsay, as it turns out, is not a teenaged camp counselor after all, but a Rock’n‘Roll World reporter working on an enterprise story. It’s an idea ridiculous enough to be its own joke, but Wain and Showalter commit as fully to it as they do to even their tiniest gags. The episode flashes back to Lindsay as she pitches her summer camp story, an unflinching look into “what the teenagers are doing when the parents aren’t around.” After putting a clip in her hair to prove she has what it takes to execute Operation: Camp Never Been Kissed, Lindsay is off to Camp Firewood with a 5,000-word assignment and a voiceover to boot.

WHAS excels at visual gags and quick changes, so Lindsay’s transformative hair clip is just the beginning. Abby gets her first period, and with one magical tampon, she ages roughly three decades. (And tragically, Abby’s woman times hit just as she’s about to reveal boys’ motivation for going to Neptune, which I really wanted to know.) Then there’s Coop, who rescues Kevin from the most crippling public embarrassment by transforming into Miss Patti Pancakes, the mischievous, shorts-shitting bandit of Camp Firewood. Coop’s gesture is as kind and beautiful as anything involving a pair of soiled shorts, but he would have been wise to lose the get-up and the pooped garment prior to confronting Donna about her flirtation with Yaron.

As funny as all of these gags are, “Lunch” isn’t replete with jokes like “Campers Arrive,” which is indicative of the precarious position First Day Of Camp is in. The better it is as a plot-driven television series, the less effective it is as a joke delivery machine. “Lunch” still feels very much like movie that inspired it, but as a standalone episode it isn’t the best First Day Of Camp has to offer. My reaction to the episode surprised me because I went into the series hoping it would feel more like a television than a long movie. Now, as I watch each episode by itself, I’m sort of envious of the people who are cranking straight through it without interruption. Maybe a four-hour prequel movie is exactly what First Day Of Camp is supposed to be.

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Stray observations:

  • “Lunch” is jam-packed with cameos, including Jordan Peele, Paul Scheer, and Jayma Mays in just the first few minutes.
  • I laughed as much during the Rock’n‘Roll World scene as anything else here, mostly because of Scheer and Mays’ side conversations. WHAS is really good at walla and chuffah.
  • Lindsay’s true identity isn’t the only shocking reveal: Gene and Gail are a couple!
  • Greg made that toxic waste look really delicious.
  • So much for Mitch, eh? Also, I have to see these first two episodes are surprisingly light on Beth.
  • I haven’t had a chance to wade into the comments yet, but given the temptation to watch this straight through, let’s be careful about spoilers in the discussion. Some people want to see the complex mysteries of Camp Firewood unfurl gradually.

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