Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later review
It’s time for these happy campers to move on.
In 2015, Netflix cried Walla Walla Hoo and Wet Hot American Summer fans responded with a proud Walla Walla Hey. First Day of Camp introduced a new audience to David Wain and Michael Showalter’s absurd summer camp comedy. It was a necessary follow-up that preceded the events of the first movie, offering backstory for some of Camp Firewood’s wackier residents while ringing in a bunch of new campers courtesy of Chris Pine, Jason Schwartzman and more. Most importantly, it was just so bloody good to be back at Camp Firewood. To see how these young, hopeful characters (albeit played by actors who were already far too old in the 2001 original) became the people they were on Wet Hot American Summer’s last day at camp was a treat. 10 Years Later has more than its fair share of laughs to go around but it never really scratches the same itch.
The premise of 10 Years Later is inspired by a seemingly off-the-cuff conversation at the end of the first film where, you guessed it, the crew make a promise to meet back at the same spot 10 years on. Two newcomers, Mark (Mark Feuerstein) and Claire (Sarah Burns) have been hilariously retconned into said scene 16 years on to legitimise their place in the film. And so, the Firewood gang make their way to grace the spirit of Firewood one last time.
There are so many threads here, I won’t bother delving into each one, but I’ll give you a quick idea of where the main cast is at in 10 Years Later: Coop (Michael Showalter) is a novelist struggling to finish his book (because his story at Firewood never really came to an end), Katie (Marguerite Moreau) is a high-flying fashion editor, and McKinley (Michael Ian Black) and Ben are happily married with a child. Ben (who you might remember looking somewhat like A-lister Bradley Cooper) has had a nose job in the time between the first movie and 10 years Later and now looks suspiciously like Parks and Rec’s Adam Scott. This joke is handled fabulously. Ben worries his old campmates won’t recognise him after his rhinoplasty but no one can tell the difference, and it’s never mentioned again. Adam Scott is now Ben, and the viewer is just forced to accept it.
Speaking of Ben and McKinley, those two have possibly the funniest and most engaging storyline in 10 Years Later. To free up their parental duties during the reunion, Ben hires a nanny (Alyssa Milano) to look after the baby during the trip.
Milano expertly flips between sincere, caring nanny and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle satire, making herself the object of McKinley’s paranoia. This thread is 50 percent true intrigue and 50 percent hilarity (50/50, Claire!) thanks to Alyssa Milano and Michael Ian Black's top shelf comedy chops. I'd never seen Milano in a comedy before this, so I went in with no expectations, but she carried her role effortlessly beside seasoned comedy vets.
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Second to Ben and McKinley’s psycho nanny drama is the closeted love between old-timer J.J (Zak Orth) and newcomer Claire. Claire and Mark have been in an unsteady relationship ever since the revised last days of camp, while J.J has been relegated to Claire’s best bud and confidant. It’s immediately obvious J.J has feelings for Claire. Claire is often the object of the rookie documentarian’s wistful gaze (Claire avoids the camera, claiming to be “camera shy” which is a loose explanation for her absence in the first film). Over the season, the disastrous love triangle evolves and climaxes with one fantastic stoush.
Outside of these and a few more hilarious threads, 10 Years Later doesn’t have a lot going for it. It’s at its best when it’s doing what it has always done so well, satirising coming of age stories and American tradition. However, and believe me it feels weird saying this about Wet Hot American Summer, but 10 Years Later gets a little too absurd.
Whether, its characters breaking the fourth wall by referencing conversations from other “episodes” or David Hyde Pierce’s brief web-cam cameo that ends with Hyde Pierce out of character wishing them luck with the rest of the shoot, Wain and Showalter still know how to make good, bizarre comedy.
However, the last few episodes totally collapse under a truckload of over the top storylines and plot inconsistencies. This is literally all part of one big gag, but it still feels like a waste of the viewer’s time. When President Bush and Reagan start duking it out over a nuke planted underneath Camp Firewood, things began to careen way off track and into a boring side plot about Chris Pine's and Jason Schwartzman’s (who are still in fine form) cybernetic body reconstruction.
Like I said, it doesn't feel right criticising 10 Years Later for its bizarre, offbeat direction but we've now spent 17 years with the core group of campers. They're why we keep coming back. So I don't think it's too much to ask that we spend what could be the last trip to Camp Firewood with the beloved main cast, rather than the presidential conspiracy or the Pine/Schwartzman side plot.
It's been an excellent run for a comedy series that started life with a critical suplex from none other than Roger Ebert, but I think in 2017, it truly is time for these campers to call it a day. With that said, I hope Wain and Showalter make the most of their relationship with Netflix. Wain is creating the National Lampoon biopic A Futile and Stupid Gesture for Netflix, which is due out this year. But we'd love to see another TV series from the minds of Wain and Showalter.
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