Netflix’s ‘Wet Hot’ revives cult movie
Camp is a funny place. Young staff members act as authority figures, taking care of young campers while still creating their own memorable summer moments. The cult movie Wet Hot American Summer (2001) explores this unique relationship between campers, counselors and head staff members.
The film gently mocks writer and director David Wain’s experience at a Jewish summer camp and is notable for starring a host of now well-known actors—including Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper and Paul Rudd—before they were famous. While the film details a group of counselors’ last day at Camp Firewood, the Netflix prequel series Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp does the opposite.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp was (fittingly) released over the summer, on July 31. It consists of eight episodes, each with titles like “Lunch” and “Staff Party” corresponding to different parts of the main character’s first day at Camp Firewood. First Day of Camp reunites the film’s original cast of counselors and staff, including Coop (Michael Showalter), Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks), Andy (Paul Rudd), Katie (Marguerite Moreau), McKinley (Michael Ian Black), Ben (Bradley Cooper), Suzie (Amy Poehler), Abby (Marisa Ryan), camp director Beth (Janeane Garofalo), chef Gene (Christopher Meloni) and the camp’s neighboring professor Henry Newman (David Hyde Pearce).
In addition to the star-studded cast, the series features several high profile guest stars. Wain guest stars as Yaron, a counselor from Israel who ends up dating Coop’s girlfriend Donna (guest star Lake Bell). Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig plays a counselor at Camp Tigerclaw, a rival and more upscale camp across the lake.
Key & Peele’s Jordan Peele plays Lindsay’s boss at Rock World, where she worked as a journalist before going undercover as a counselor at Camp Firewood.
Other famous comedians who appear on the show include Michael Cera (as a camp lawyer), Jon Hamm (as a hired assassin), John Slattery (as a visiting theater director) and Chris Pine (as a reclusive musician). One of the most interesting parts of the series is seeing how the campers and staff evolve into the people they were by the last day of camp. The series adds to the movie’s events by explaining several of the main characters’ backstories.
First Day of Camp demonstrates that Coop hadn’t always been love-struck over Katie, his love interest in the film. Instead, Coop spends his first day at camp worrying about when his sort-of girlfriend Donna will arrive. In the film, Camp Firewood’s fearless director, Beth, deals with several camp disasters before finally facing the climactic asteroid threat on the last day of camp. In the series, Beth loses her husband to a giant vat of toxic waste, leading her to confront the government about the vat’s dangerous location on camp property—all in only eight hours. In addition, in the original film, arts counselor Gail (Molly Shannon) divorces her husband on the last day of camp, but in the series, her other divorce takes place on the camp’s first day.
After a long engagement, Gail gears up to marry Gene, only to amicably leave him at the altar for Jeff (Randall Park), a city hall records clerk whom Gail met around lunchtime that day and divorced just a few hours later.
The series allowed for more time to focus on the different main characters. My favorite outcome of this dynamic is Lindsay’s storyline. Lindsay starts off the series with a pitch to her editor at Rock World, describing how she has heard about camp in sensational terms and expressing the need to find out what camp is like for herself. When she arrives at camp, Lindsay makes friends easily and quickly learns the camp’s secrets. These secrets include the fact that an almost-famous musician and Camp Firewood alum, Eric, is said to live in an abandoned cabin on the camp’s outskirts. Lindsay finds Eric and uses her expertise as a rock reporter to help him finish his track.
The talented Banks plays Lindsay with poise and enthusiasm. For a series whose actors are in their 30s to 60s when their characters are in their teen years, it would not be unreasonable to expect that viewers would be forced to suspend a great deal of disbelief. However, Banks’ portrayal of a journalist-turned-camp counselor somehow rings as honest and compelling, despite the unlikelihood of it ever occurring in everyday life.
First Day of Camp provides context, explanations and additional plotlines for the Wet Hot film. While it is not strictly necessary to have seen the film in order to understand the series, viewers will benefit from being able to compare the characters’ journeys from their first to last days of camp.
If that’s not enough, Netflix released in conjunction with the series on July 24 Hurricane of Fun: The Making of Wet Hot, a documentary with behind-the-scenes footage from the film. The documentary will allow viewers to make a similar comparison between the development of the characters at camp and the evolution of the actors in their careers.