The humor in the Wet Hot American Summer universe can be hard to pin down. Most of the jokes don’t follow comedy logic, and they rely heavy on how they’re performed. Whether a joke in First Day Of Camp succeeds or fails, it’s nearly impossible to figure out why it did so. In “Campers Arrive,” when Coop chides Drew for antagonizing Kevin, Drew’s maniacally loud response (“What?! I like doing stuff like that!”) cracks me up for reasons I’m unable to fully explain. It’s just funny.

I’m no more able to explain why some bits don’t work for me at all, like the Victor and Neil scene near the beginning of “Staff Party.” Neil is preparing to lose his virginity to his high school girlfriend Sherri, and who better to advise him on what to expect when you’re expecting camp nookie than self-described sexual legend Victor Pulak? Victor tells Neil women love fragrant smelling balls, then encourages Neil to douse his testicles with cologne as if he’s sprinkling vinegar on spring mix. The bit seemed funny, but somehow it didn’t work for me. At Camp Firewood, one man’s joke trash is another’s joke treasure.

As the only person in America to have watched First Day Of Camp one episode at a time, I’ve had a lot of time to think about how watching it that way has affected my experience. “Staff Party” feels like a bit of a slowdown, not only in terms of plot, but also how funny it is. Then again, if someone told me they thought this was the funniest episode of the show, there would be no reason to doubt them. Between the ability to watch as much or as little of the show at whatever pace and the seemingly random hit-to-miss ratio of the jokes, First Day Of Camp can be a dramatically different experience from viewer to viewer.

Much of “Staff Party” is devoted to sorting out the love triangles that remain in play at Camp Firewood after the McKinley-Ben-Susie-Claude love quadrilateral sorted itself out between that magical zoot suit and Susie’s discomfort with her legal inability to consent.

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Andy and Katie finally declare their feelings for each other after some classic Andy dialogue about Katie’s metaphorical love of hot and sour soup: “Why don’t you try some moo shu pork for once in your life, Katie? You never know. You just might like the way it tastes.” It’s not exactly Pablo Neruda, but compared to offering Katie a slice of his long, greasy dick, it’s a big step-up for Andy. Then there’s Coop, Donna, and Yaron, who take a detour through Swingtown, though if we’re being honest, it’s not exactly a hard left. Donna has been playing them off each other all along, and it’s nice to see Coop finally drawing a clear line in the sand.

The most heartbreaking development goes to Kevin, who pledges his love for Amy to prevent her to spending seven minutes in Heaven with Drew, only for her to rebuff him. As with “Electro/City,” I’m pleasantly surprised by FDOC’s ability to wring genuine emotion out of its absurd scenarios. That gift also appears when Lindsay is finally exposed as a rock journalist, causing all the relationships she’s spent 12 long hours building to crumble in 12 seconds. Electro-City is indeed a cruel place to live, but life at Camp Firewood is no picnic. Aside from the picnics, anyway.

Stray observations:

  • Victor gets this close to getting it on with Rhonda, but he’s afraid to close the deal. True love waits, Victor.
  • Another lengthy bit that didn’t quite work for me: The “You’re a big fat pig” song to Sherri. It just didn’t connect. Don’t ask me why.
  • How I imagine Wain and Showalter’s initial meeting with Josh Charles: “So basically your character spends an inordinate amount of time looking through binoculars.”
  • Ben is DJ Ski Mask!
  • I loved Lindsay’s reference to Weird Al.
  • Nancy to Lindsay: “I trusted you with my diaphragm!”

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