Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, Netflix’s reboot of the titular 2001 cult film, is upon us. And before you binge your way through Camp Firewood this weekend, check out the Rotten Tomatoes primer on everything you need to know about season one.
Welcome to Camp Firewood, 1981. For those familiar with the film, it’s the same Maine summer camp where Wet Hot American Summer is set — but, while the movie took place over the last day of camp, the new TV version starts on the first day of camp. In other words, this is a prequel set two months prior (even though the cast is 15 years older). The entire season is a continuing storyline transpiring over a single day, with episodes that should be seen in order, preferably binge-watched like a long movie.
Pretty much everybody you remember from the original movie shows up for the TV series. Molly Shannon is back as crafts teacher Gail von Kleinenstein, as is her love interest, Gene (Christopher Meloni), the disturbed Vietnam vet-turned-camp chef. Janeane Garofalo returns as Beth (on her way to becoming camp director) and her soon-to-be love interest, Professor Henry Newman (David Hyde Pierce). The camp counselors are also in full attendance: Andy (Paul Rudd), Gerald “Coop” Cooperberg (Showalter), J.J. (Zak Orth), Victor Pulak (Ken Marino), Neil (Joe Lo Truglio), McKinley Dozen (Michael Ian Black), Katie (Marguerite Moreau), Ben (Bradley Cooper), Susie (Amy Poehler), Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks), Ron Von Kleinenstein (Judah Friedlander), and Can of Vegetables (H. Jon Benjamin).
If your mind hasn’t exploded yet from the roster of stars who made it back to Camp Firewood, it might when you see the talent who was added to the First Day of Camp. Without spoiling too much, we can tell you that Mad Men alumns Jon Hamm and John Slattery show up, as well as Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore), Lake Bell (In a World), Rob Huebel (Transparent), Jordan Peele (Key & Peele), Paul Scheer (The League) , Josh Charles (The Good Wife), ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic (UHF), Chris Pine (Star Trek), Michaela Watkins (Enough Said), and Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids).
“Part of what happened with us is we realized we had more story that we wanted to tell than what we could fit into a 90-minute vessel,” Wain told reporters at a Netflix press day in April. “So we just kept thinking about it and realized that the platform, and the medium, and the audience, and the creative space of Netflix was perfect. That had just emerged at around the time that we were thinking about this, and so it was a perfect convergence.”
Watching the film (which is currently streaming on Netflix) is not a prerequisite for enjoying the show — though it would augment the experience. “If you’re a fan of the movie, or you know it well, then there’s a whole layer of many, many, many little and big ways that things get set up, or precursors to elements of the movie, that we tried to make clever, funny, [with] fun reveals and so on,” Wain teased. Also, since the TV show is a prequel, the events from the movie haven’t happened yet.
“After a few minutes you’re not even thinking about how old they are. You’re just watching this story of these teenagers and laughing,” Wain explained. It was always part of the bit that the actors were too old for their characters in the film, but, of course, 15 years later, the age difference is even more apparent — and more funny. “I do think it gives you an opportunity to see it in a way that you wouldn’t,” Showalter said about the age of the cast. “There is an element of satire to it that you wouldn’t get if you had actual teenagers playing these characters.”
If you’re a fan of the film Wet Hot American Summer, you can expect much of the same silliness and meta-comedy from the new TV show. But, while the movie showed camp counselors on a heroin bender, you might not see as much shock humor in this version. “In [the TV show] Stella, and even a little bit in Wet Hot, there was an element of trying to be outrageous — potentially offensive,” Showalter said. “That’s less interesting to me right now — that particular kind of throw-caution-to-the-wind. I’m more interested in a certain kind of fun. I want people to feel good.”
There’s no word yet on whether or not there will be a season two, but WHAS creators Showalter and Wain seem open to it. Wrangling the talent for the TV reunion was strangely easier than expected. “We just basically set a date and said, “Okay, whenever anyone’s free during that time, come on over and we’ll shoot,” Wain said. “So, that was never the delay. It was just sort of getting the whole machine up and running. But, yeah, I think there’s plenty more to do if it all works out. It would be great.”