When “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” premiered in 2015, most of the joke was the series’ mere existence. “Wet Hot American Summer” has grown in popularity as it’s become known as a wellspring of modern comedic talent. The cult comedy has many of today’s biggest stars, including Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, and Bradley Cooper early in their careers. Even directors Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick”) and David Wain (“Role Models”) wrote and directed the film. It was a perfect blending of extreme talent at the right time in their career. Unfortunately, “Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later” is the opposite.
The new series jumps right into the end of the original film. We see the characters about to leave Camp Firewood, and they agree to hold a 10-year reunion in 1991. The entire first episode of the season is essentially a montage of the characters coming together and meeting up again. We peek in at each character’s life, and where they’ve been in the interim. Some of the characters are hyper successful, and work on TV (Elizabeth Banks), or are editors for magazines (Marguerite Moreau). Others are working in small video stores (Zak Orth). On some level, the first episode is the high point of the season, simply because it’s fun to see where the characters went.
Not long after, the story of the season spirals out of control and turns into borderline nonsense. It would be a lie to say that the show isn’t enjoyable on some level, simply because the talent is charismatic and electric enough to warrant your attention. That said, it would be hard to make anything starring this cast and not be at least passable.
The second episode picks up a thread about former President Ronald Reagan (Showalter) and new President George H. W. Bush (Michael Ian Black). They’re looking to destroy Camp Firewood the same time that Beth (Janeane Garofalo) is looking to sell it. Apparently, a nuke is hidden in a bunker under the camp, and they plan on shooting the missile shortly. Meanwhile, the relationships from the class of 1981 grow more and more complicated through romance, adultery, and suspicion.
Two storylines are legitimately fun for the entire series, while most of the rest ebb and flow. The best storyline picks up on Michael Ian Black’s McKinley, who is still married to his camp sweetheart Ben. Ben was played by Bradley Cooper in the original film and first Netflix series, but couldn’t make this filming. Instead, he’s played by Adam Scott after Ben got a nose job. The two have a child, but McKinley is having trouble giving time to the Nanny (Alyssa Milano). As the season progresses, Milano tries to “Single White Female” her way into the family, to more and more hilarious results.
The second is H. Jon Benjamin reprising his role as a Can of Vegetables. Seriously, the plot is utter nonsense, but it is also the funniest joke for joke moment in the season. Can of Vegetables confronts former camp chef Gene (Christopher Meloni), and the two build a super team to take down the Presidents who wish to blow up the camp. The team adds Eric (Chris Pine) and Greg (Jason Schwartzman) and stops off to recruit Gail (Molly Shannon). It’s a hilarious and ridiculous group, but also the most fun you’ll have in the season.
Other than that, the rest of the storylines are weak to nonimportant. Many don’t get resolved in a meaningful way, a fact the show itself makes fun of. There are plot holes and ridiculous stories that may have felt enjoyable in the first series. Yet here, there’s a darker cynicism that is simply less enjoyable. With a weird negativity holding down many of the characters, there’s less room for outright fun. What’s made this weird little franchise work has always been the fact that you want to spend time with the characters. This time around, that isn’t really the case. As each character shows that they’ve become broken over the past 10 years, it’s tougher to want to stick it out.
Again, there are some legitimately funny laughs in this season, but even 8 episodes felt too long for this season. That is a problem, and the season never really chases the fun ideas of summer camp, even if those “kids” on screen are in their mid to late twenties. By ignoring that, the season flounders in surprising fashion. The talent here elevates the material, but this might be the last time we need to visit our friends at Camp Firewood. Maybe the next reunion will have a little more weight behind it.