Review: WHAS First Day of Camp ‘Campers Arrive’

After years of rumors and reports of an in-progress sequel/prequel, Wet Hot American Summer finally opened its second chapter with all eight of the episodes of First Day of Camp appearing on Netflix in the early morning hours Friday.

So much has changed since the 2001 movie bombed at the box office and later became a cult classic thanks to the upward career trajectory of so many of its stars. Yet here they all are back at Camp Firewood playing themselves as teenagers in a movie set in 1981 eight weeks before the one they were in 14 years ago. Having actors play characters 30 years younger than them is ridiculous, but it works because part of the fun of the original movie is that the audience was in on the joke.

Here, camp director Mitch (H. Jon Benjamin) wastes no time clearing up how old the star-studded middle-aged ensemble is supposed to be. “Some of you were campers here last year, but now you’re all 16 or 17 years old so do not think that being a counselor means you are counselors with drinking privileges.”

The age gap is even more apparent when the campers arrive – one in a sweet Deloreon – and the campers are played by age appropriate actors, like George Dalton who plays Arty, aka “The Beekeeper.” Dalton looks the part and Samm Levine provides the voice again as he shows up asking McKinley where the radio station is.

Some new camper characters are introduced when Coop (Michael Showalter) meets Kevin Appleblat (David Bloom) and they quickly develop a Bill Murray/Chris Makepeace-style friendship from Meatballs. Appleblat is a quick target for bunkmate Drew (Thomas Barbusca) and his minions but Coop convinces him without saying a word to challenge Drew to a burbing contest in order to gain the respect of the other campers. It turns out Kevin is horrible at burbing and Drew is the “Burp King of Westchester” so it doesn’t end well but does catch the attention of his crush Amy (Hailey Sole).

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Other new characters introduced include guest director Claude Dumet (John Slattery), who shows up to help with the opening night staff production of Electro-City, a musical as Susie (Amy Poehler) explains about a guy who “moves from the country to the city to become a Broadway star and is immediately sent to the electric chair for a crime he didn’t commit. Or did he?” Susie and Ben (Bradley Cooper) are dynamite as always and Dumet introduces a new level of ridiculousness to the Camp Firewood theater program with an overdramatic entrance.

Coop’s supposed girlfriend Donna (Lake Bell) is awkwardly introduced and we get our first glimpse of the preppy Camp Tiger Claw, where Katie’s boyfriend Blake (Josh Charles) and his two sidekicks are spying on them through binoculars. Katie (Marguerite Moreau) also catches the eye of Andy (Paul Rudd), who uses his ridiculous charm (or is it anti-charm?) to try to reel her in. 

Also, in addition to seeing H. Jon Benjamin (you only hear him in the movie), Jason Schwartzman’s character introduces himself as head boys counselor Greg with a reference to Morty’s shirt in Meatballs (“When the hand goes up the mouth goes shut”). Greg’s role in the story thickens when he overhears Mitch on the phone talking about bills the camp owes as the end of the episode. Since we already know he and Mitch don’t last to the end of camp, it will be interesting to see how they each meet their demise. The dumping of chemicals by workers in Hazmat suits from a company called Xenstar is probably key to answering some of those questions.

As first episodes go, “Campers Arrive” is a strong beginning for the series and shows none of the signs that made Arrested Development a slight disappointment when it attempted to reunite a star-studded cast and attempt to shoot a cohesive story around busy A list actor schedules.

The show is over-the-top crude, but also as stupidly funny and endearingly charming as the source material. The multiple storyline – my favorite so far is the one involving the Burp King of Westchester – provide a much deeper dive into life at Camp Firewood than a feature film could ever accomplish.

Notes:

-Whenever J.J. (Zak Orth) says something crude, he puts his hand up for someone to slap him five. Makes me laugh every time.

-Ken Marino, who plays Victor Kulak, is the John Stamos of Wet Hot American Summer. He’s 46 years old yet somehow looks more chiseled in a mesh tank top than he did when he was in the original movie.

-“Bunk 3 is a good bunk. The toilets work.” -Neil (Joe Lo Truglio).

-Drew and Kevin use Sharks Old Fashioned Root Beer for their burp fight.

Camp Cayuga in Honesdale, Pa., gets a shout out when McKinley (Michael Ian Black) says his brother went to Camp Cayuga and “said Alan Shemper is amazing.” Cayuga is near Camp Towanda, where the original movie was filmed.

-Coop thinks Beth (Jeannie Garofolo) is so funny he compares her to Marla Gibbs, who played the maid on The Jeffersons.

-Blake (Josh Charles) wears three polo shirts – light blue, light green and pink – all with popped collars.

Matt Ralph

Matt Ralph

I'm the editor of Summer Camp Culture and also blog at Tangzine.com and MatthewRalph.com. I live in the Philadelphia area and went to camps and camp meetings growing up in Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey.

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