Back in 2001, when Wet Hot American Summer was met with unfavourable reviews and lacklustre box office returns, it seemed the film’s delightfully ridiculous, self-referential world would quickly be forgotten. Yet, after developing an avid cult following over the years, the camp movie spoof was picked up by Netflix in 2015 for a prequel season – Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. Defying the odds once again, Michael Showalter and David Wain’s proudly juvenile, self-aware brand of humour returns for an 8-episode sequel season – and it remains as joyfully ludicrous as ever.
A product of a scene in the original movie, where the campmates agree to meet up in 10 years’ time, Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later sees the whole gang reunite in 1991 for a weekend-long reunion at their beloved Camp Firewood. The first episode quickly goes about re-introducing everyone and updating us on their lives. Coop (Michael Showalter) is a novelist who’s having trouble concluding his memoirs, and he still has feelings for Kate (Marguerite Moreau), now a VP of marketing at a cosmetics company. Susie (Amy Poehler) is an up-and-coming movie producer, while Paul Rudd’s Andy hasn’t grown out of his bad-boy image. Victor (Ken Marino) is working at a bar, with his perm and virginity still intact, alongside best friend Neil (Joe Lo Truglio), who is trying to win back his ex. Ben (Adam Scott) and McKinley (Michael Ian Black) now have an infant daughter but a mysterious rented nanny, Renata (Alyssa Milano), threatens their domestic harmony. J.J. (Zak Orth) is working at a video rental store, Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) is now a broadcast journalist and camp-owner Beth (Janeane Garofalo) is considering selling Camp Firewood.
A bunch of other familiar faces also return, including H. Jon Benjamin as the voice of fan favourite Mitch, a talking can of vegetables. Bradley Cooper is the one notable absence, but following a nose-job, Adam Scott steps into his shoes as Ben. Many other shows wouldn’t dare attempt such an audacious cast change, but in a series where a can of vegetables has sex with a waitress, pretty much anything goes. The seasons’ inventive rule-breaking is boundless, as it introduces new characters Claire (Sarah Burns) and Mark (Mark Feuerstein) as if they’d been a part of Camp Firewood all along, even comically inserting them into flashback scenes. With such a huge array of characters (and cast scheduling conflicts), several previous regulars do become disappointingly marginalised. Truglio’s Neil literally takes a four-episode nap, while Banks’ Lindsay is separated from the rest of the gang for a large part of the season. Yet this only makes the screen-time the cast do share together all the more entertaining.
To try and summarise the wacky hi-jinks of the plot would be counter-intuitive, as the show has no interest in continuity. In fact, it prides itself on being nonsensical, even poking fun at its own plot holes. In short, the season revolves around a nuclear threat to Camp Firewood involving long-time rivals Camp Tigerclaw, returning former President Ronald Reagan (Showalter) and President George H. W. Bush (Black). Showalter’s Reagan always felt the weakest part of First Day of Camp, but he produces much more amusement in Ten Years Later, alongside Black’s fantastically funny portrayal of Bush. Character motivations are cleverly shifted throughout and this season’s intermingling story arc feels better fitted to the binge-watching format of Netflix than First Day of Camp.
Ten Years Later retains the playfully self-referential tone of the previous instalments, with its 90s setting giving the show a new era of culture to parody. There are clever nods to the psychological/erotic thrillers of the 90s, as well as a hilarious name check of Slacker (“that movie that just came out five weeks ago”). Most importantly, this season is packed to the rafters with funny gags. The original film was very hit-and-miss, but Showalter and Wain have refined their brand of sharp, silly meta-humour and this latest outing of Wet Hot American Summer is the most consistently amusing. One visual gag, in particular, involving a table of precariously balanced champagne glasses, provides the season’s biggest laugh. The absurd humour and recurring in-jokes may alienate some newcomers, but it will more than satisfy fans.
What has always made Wet Hot American Summer so immensely enjoyable is the affection the cast and crew share for these characters – they’re all clearly having a blast. Once again, the chemistry between the cast is so natural and the comedic timing so on point, it’s like they’ve never been away. In an increasingly depressing world, the gleeful, freewheeling silliness and unabashed fun of Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is exactly what we need.
Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.