At some point during these eight episodes of Wet Hot, I’m going to have to get it through my head that Ten Years Later is not a sequel to the movie. It’s a sequel to the entire franchise, including, but not limited to, practically every single character and element introduced so far. I’m half-expecting the legendary Jim Stansel to return from the dead, perhaps with a reasonable explanation for his reanimation, perhaps not. And honestly, it’s kind of exhausting. With an ensemble this enormous, ideally a choice would be made between checking in on all the familiar faces and introducing new ones. Alas, Wet Hot is all about excess, and the requisite group-photo illustration in the key art has gotten crowded enough to become its own joke.

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But as nice as it is to reunite, however briefly, with Wet Hot bit characters present and past, there’s a sense of duty weighing Ten Years Later down. The plot can’t help but feel mechanical when nearly every move is done in the interest of reincorporating familiar characters who could have easily been skipped. That’s certainly the case with those preppy snobs from Camp Tigerclaw, the only people to whom Katie and Andy can turn to help thwart the hostile takeover. Josh Charles is incredibly adept at this kind of absurd comedy, which is why he’s as fun to see here as he was in his recent guest arc on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Same goes for Kristin Wiig and Rich Sommer: I’m happy to see them, but spending nearly an entire episode to fold the Tigerclaw kids back into the story doesn’t feel rewarding.

Perhaps it would be different if “Tigerclaw” did, in fact, see the two rival camps held together by a tenuous peace accord join forces to element a larger threat. And sure, who’s to say they won’t do that down the line? But it’s not that interesting to have Camp Tigerclaw emerge as the villains they always were, the inside men to President Reagan as he moves forward with his plan to seize Firewood. Wet Hot has evolved from being a send-up of ‘80s summer camp romps to a send-up of action blockbusters, but from a plot standpoint, it’s still operating purely as a comedy. What summer tentpole franchise reuses the same villain in every film? None of them do, because what would be the fun in that?

But there are some characters too imporant to leave out of a season of Wet Hot. That includes Gene, the hitman cook who still finds time to reinvent fetish play on a daily basis. Gene rejoins the story after being tracked down by Mitch, the can of vegetables on the run after discovering the Reagan-Tigerclaw conspiracy. This seems a good moment to talk about Mitch’s newfound physicality, which is equally hilarious and disturbing. Granted, Mitch was introduced bragging about his self-fellatio skills, but there’s still something so weird about seeing Mitch live as a can of vegetables outside of Camp Firewood. It’s even weirder to see Mitch giving a randy diner waitress what for. (Apparently the self-fellatio is only a part-time activity, because everybody’s had a taste of this can of vegetables.) Despite his Wet Hot quick change, Mitch can do everything he did before he fell into a toxic bog, including kicking Gene’s ass until he agrees to do his part to save the camp.

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Back at camp, Ben and McKinley’s evil nanny drama continues once Claire explains that the easily-explained discrepancy is a standard beat in the evil-hot-nanny thriller. The overbearing parents have to be convinced of their hysteria, then overcompensate by being too permissive of the growing threat. Donna and Yaron have joined the reunion, having figured out how to make their love last all these years. To borrow from Kelis, they can teach you, but they’ll have to charge. But not everything is perfect for Donna and Yaron. They’re ready to bring a child into the world but can’t because of Yaron’s slacker sperm. Naturally, they zero in on Victor, the one person least equipped to handle the favor of impregnating Donna the old-fashioned way. Because, y’know, who has the patience to wait for another ovulation window? Meanwhile, the Mark-Claire-J.J. love triangle continues to come together as Mark’s indiscretions become more and more brazen.

I’m still trying to figure out what Ten Years Later is missing, and I think the issue might be the absence of a summer lovin’ subplot between a pair of shy campers, one of the few elements missing from the standard Wet Hot template. Those small, sweet, and mostly sincere moments balances the silliness of the humor and grounds the story. And maybe those are dumb things to expect from a comedy series as effortfully goofy as this one. But I expect these things from Wet Hot because it has delivered them before. The Electro-City musical arc from First Day Of Camp could have just been another joke, but wound up being oddly affecting as Andy and Katie discover their feelings for each other.

To fill the romance void, enter Coop, a more mature Katie, and—record scratch—Coop’s girlfriend Ginny?! That’s right, Coop is already spoken for by Ginny, a classic romantic-comedy obstacle who is identified as such by talking about little she’s heard about Katie prior to this reunion. Maybe I have too little faith in Coop, but the leading man role seems like a baggy fit on him and I’m not sure he can be the central figure the show needs him to be. Right now, Coop is just one of many faces in an ever-expanding tableau of weirdos, campers, presidents, and assassins.

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Stray observations

  • Not to belabor the point, but this is starting to feel more like a triumph of scheduling more than anything else. All these folks are super busy, so jamming all these characters into the story means less work for everyone. Even Michael Showalter and David Wain might be too busy these days, as they seem to have taken a backseat in an expanded writers’ room.
  • The gag with Mark and Nancy pitching woo in broad daylight, just feet away from an oblivious Claire, reminds me a bit too much a scene from They Came Together.
  • As usual, Lindsay is after the big scoop she’s supposed to stay away from, this time including the world’s worst underground-garage tipster.
  • Blake claims he doesn’t want to see Camp Firewood turned into a B. Dalton, a Circuit City, or a Blockburster Verdio.
  • Abby did a really terrible job giving Victor that pep talk, which I guess is what that was supposed to be.
  • Anne-Marie Johnson is here as Reagan’s shady lawyer. Feels like I haven’t seen her in years.
  • Gary really, really knows his mac ‘n’ cheese these days. I love that he’s adopted the language of a culinary auteur.

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