The hard part of processing the final act of Ten Years Later is figuring out what exactly happened to the Camp Firewood crew. It’s also the fun part. A lot of stuff happens between “Dance” and “End Summer Night’s Dream,” and for the vast majority of the Wet Hot characters, the conclusion of Ten Years Later is about as fortuitous as you can imagine. Everybody gets what they most want in life as this traffic jam of meta-jokes and genre spoofs finally untangles itself in the kind of devil-may-care non-resolution few other live-action shows could pull off. But with so many winners, there also has to be a loser, and that dubious distinction goes to Julie Levenson, the actress whose nervy performance elevated the “Hot Nanny” subplot of Reagan and Bush’s elaborate ruse.
That’s right, it turns out that what has looked all this time like a presidential plot to nuke a children’s sleepaway camp was actually a long con designed to restore everyone’s faith in the spirit of Camp Firewood. The allegedly nuclear-tipped missile was carrying a payload full of colorful confetti. Bush didn’t betray Reagan at the last minute after quietly fuming about the disrespectful way the previous occupant of the Oval Office was treating him. And no, Reagan was not the legendary Little-Willie-Shits-His-Pants, the young Firewood camper whose anxiety around the opposite sex caused him to project a perfect little shot-put ball of dookie down his pant leg and onto the floor. He just led Lindsay to believe that was the case, with some assistance from future president William Jefferson Clinton. Nurse Nancy was not, in fact, pulped by a vengeful Gail in retribution for the murder of Gene, who is also not dead. The less you think about it, the better.
Of course, everyone has lots of questions. All this to rescue the spirit of Camp Firewood? Who built the underground bunker? Why act out the part of villains when none of the Firewood campers were around? And for the love of God, where the hell is Julie and why did she leave before the curtain call? That’s just poor form. Most of the questions have answers, if not exactly satisfying ones, including the detail that Reagan has a penchant for scatological improv. But those answers completely obliterate every plot point and mostly serve to remind us that in the world of Wet Hot, not even the stuff that matters actually matters. Except maybe to Julie’s family and the couples counselor tasked with helping Ben and McKinley to heal.
This kind of “Actually, never mind” ending is not new to comedy, and it’s not even new to Wet Hot. It’s a natural evolution of the franchise. It’s a much bigger, goofier, more daring version of the First Day Of Camp scene in which Gene and The Falcon attempt to get Beth up to speed on The Falcon’s true agenda and their shared past in the Switch Ops unit. The Ten Years Later finale is, some will argue, a little too similar to that scene to work again in such a major way. But I found the ending kind of perfect in its imperfection, right down to the detail of having Evil Bush’s getaway chopper arrive in a chunk of unlicensed stock footage. The most brilliant element is the mysterious absence of Julie Levenson, the only exception to what was otherwise a flawlessly executed deception to restore the all-important camp spirit.
If the elaborate farce had truly been the end of “End Summer Night’s Dream,” Ten Years Later would have been easy to write off as a fun but far from mandatory use of two hours’ time. It’s the nested epilogues that make Ten Years Later worthwhile. “Dream” jumps ahead a week, then a month, then a year from the pretend siege on Camp Firewood. Gary has opened his restaurant along with an investment from Beth and staffing support from Gene and Greg. (Beth has sure managed to stretch the hell out of that $100,000.) Victor and Abby got married, presumably after Victor realized Abby’s the only woman he wants making his penis look like a gnarled beerwurst. Donna and Yaron have a baby on the way, and Katie gets a huge promotion once her old camp friends help her discover the hot new color for fall. Andy grows up and decides to take an increased role in his son’s life, however briefly.
The happiest ending belongs to Beth and Mitch, who sign off from a secluded beach where Mitch has somehow returned to his human form and the canned vegetables are just a oceanside snack. There’s no story here, just like there was no elaboration in First Day Of Camp when the presumed dead Eric hitched a ride out of town. And sure, there could be a story, perhaps with Beth using part of her six-figure fortune to bankroll an experimental procedure, yada yada yada. Eric and Greg are literally Centurions now, so anything’s possible. But like the rest of Wet Hot, the specifics of what happened and what it all means is important and irrelevant at the same time. All that really matters is spirit, friendship, and farts.
- After being spurned by Katie, Coop finishes his book and gets a bonus when Laura, his editor, confesses her feelings for him. That’s much better than any ending that put Coop and Katie together long-term.
- As much as I liked this ending I still think First Day Of Camp is much more satisfying. I don’t remember a line here as great as “He’s got duck boots jammed in his butthole” or any moment quite as funny as, say, Miss Patty Pancakes.
- Even to a greater degree than FDOC, Ten Years Later could have worked well as a two-hour movie rather than a four-hour series. Mark Feuerstein and Sarah Burns are great but I could have gone without the Mark, Claire, and J.J. triangle entirely.
- I loved the copious use of blood—er, ketchup—and laughed uncontrollably as Gail appeared to smash Nurse Nancy’s face in.
- Craig Wedren has churned out another Wet Hot classic in “Night Howlin’.”
- For a while I’ve been wondering why Alyssa Milano was chosen to be the face of TYL in Netflix’s menus, but now I understand.