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'Wet Hot American Summer' premiere recap: Campers Arrive

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Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
seasons:
1
performer:
Janeane Garofalo, Jason Schwartzman, Paul Rudd
broadcaster:
Netflix
genre:
Comedy

What does it mean to be in love? What is friendship? Why do we yearn for acceptance? Are Coop and Donna Berman boyfriend and girlfriend?

These are just a few of the questions raised in Wet Hot’s first episode. As for the answers, well, they will unfold over time as the season goes on. The premiere simply aims to set the stage for all that is to come—to reacquaint us with old friends and introduce us to new ones. Not a lot happens, but everything begins. (But also, yes, Coop and Donna Berman are definitely a couple and Coop can confirm that.)

The action begins on the morning of June 24, 1981: Opening day at Camp Firewood. Like most 16-year-olds, the counselors are excited to start the summer. Thanks to the original Wet Hot movie (which will henceforth be referred to as The Movie), we already know what their lives will look like eight weeks from now—but we know little about how they get there. So let’s start finding out, character by character.

Coop (Michael Showalter): Oh, Gerald Cooperberg, you hopeless romantic, the Prufrock of Camp Firewood. In The Movie, he spent his romantic energies on Katie. Here, he’s all about his girlfriend Donna Berman, who he is dating and is his girlfriend. He hasn’t talked to or seen her since last summer, but Donna Berman is definitely his girlfriend.

Donna Berman (Lake Bell): Could you hold that thought, Coop? Donna Berman just needs some time to decompress. It’s just all been so much, you know.

Kevin Appelblatt (David Bloom): Shy and quiet, this Camp Firewood newbie is nervous about the summer. He has trouble making friends, and he might also have a crush on a fellow camper. Naturally, Coop sees Kevin as a younger, not-girlfriend-having version of himself, so he takes the boy under his wing. But when Coop’s guidance prompts Kevin to stand up to his bully Drew, Kevin’s ends up humiliated in front of everyone—including his crush.

Drew (Thomas Barbusca): Young Drew is the Burp King of Westchester. He’s also Kevin’s chief tormenter, and an all-around butthole. He’s usually flanked by his two sidekicks Kyle and Ralphie (who, it should be noted, dresses sorta like Ralph Macchio circa The Karate Kid). And in a dramatic showdown that sets the tone for the summer, Drew defeats Kevin in a burp contest, just like an all-around butthole would.

Amy (Hailey Sole): Kevin’s crush. She’s sweet and on the quiet side—and it’s possible she likes Kevin back.

Beth (Janeane Garofalo): Though she’s the boss in The Movie, she’s only the girls’ head counselor at the moment. But she happens to be hooking up with the boss, though she’s trying to keep it on the DL. There’s been no mention yet of her flame from The Movie, Prof. Henry Newman.

Mitch (H. Jon Benjamin): Though unseen in The Movie, Mitch is very much in charge here. We learn that his connection to Camp Firewood goes back to its founding in 1947, when his great-grandfather was affiliated. Thanks to a piece in the Times, Mitch knows that poison ivy is real. He’s very excited that he gets to do it with Beth.

It’s clear the Mitch cares a lot about the camp, but by the end of the episode, we see him on the phone, angrily shouting things like “We need more money!” When he tells Greg, “I was just on the phone with the, uh, the… volleyball… salesman.” But there’s a chance he’s not telling the truth—the episode ends with him weeping in his office alone. “Oh, God, what have I done?” he mutters to himself. Ominously, the camera cuts from there to two men in HAZMAT suits who are dumping a barrel of glowing toxic waste onto the campgrounds.

If you recognize Mitch’s gravelly voice, it may be from Bob’s Burgers or Archer or even Dr. Katz. Who knows. On an unrelated note, Mitch is seen eating from a can of vegetables in the episode.

Greg (Jason Schwartzman): Decked in red shorts and Wallabees, Greg has just been promoted to boys’ head counselor. We don’t know much about him so far, but we assume something bad will happen to him since he doesn’t make it to The Movie. He also happens to be the only person who witnessed Mitch’s suspicious behavior.      

Andy (Paul Rudd): If there’s one person who might actually look younger than they did in The Movie, it’s Andy. Perhaps he swiped Michael Douglass’ anti-aging serum from the set of Ant-Man? Or maybe there’s an ageing portrait of him hanging in the attic back at his house, where his mom and his mom’s dresser live.

Anyway, Andy rides in late on his motorcycle because like, you know, whatever. Pfft. As always, he’s immaculately accessorized: denim jacket, dark shades, red handkerchief, choker necklace. Pfft. Unlike The Movie, he isn’t hooking up with Katie yet, so Andy spends much of the episode trying to impress her the old-fashioned way: push-ups and jumping jacks. Pfft.

Katie (Marguerite Moreau): Katie’s dating a dude named Blake from snobby Camp Tigerclaw, a fact that was never mentioned in The Movie. She’s even supposed to be his date at the Summer Formal tonight. Apparently Camp Tigerclaw is so rich and evil, they hold their big dance on the first day of camp.

McKinley (Michael Ian Black): McKinley mostly stays out of the spotlight in the first episode, chiming in every now and then to make stray Hervé Villechaize references.

J.J. (Zak Orth): His dick is a state-of-the-art broadcasting facility.

Victor (Ken Marino): He dry-humps people’s ears and makes bets about who will have sex first—er, again—this summer. Classic non-virgin behavior.

Even more enticing is the announcement Victor makes at the top of the show: There’s going to be a big staff party at the roundhouse tonight, which gives us something to look forward to at the end of the season.

Neil (Joe Lo Truglio): Neil wants everyone to be cool because his high-school sweetheart Sherry is going to be at the party tonight.

Susie (Amy Poehler): As the director/choreographer of the summer theater program, she’s thrilled to be leading her own production of the Broadway musical Electro City with her boyfriend Ben.

Ben (Bradley Cooper): The theater program’s executive producer/part-time costume designer. He’s very attracted to Susie, as evidenced by the way he puts his face against hers without touching any lip parts. Oh, Millie, where’s my mint julep?!

Claude Dumay (John Slattery): Rolling into the show in grand fashion, Dumay is what Guffman was waiting for. As Town Crier/Uncle Pete/Background Cop in the original touring company for Electro City, he’s more than qualified to guest-direct Susie’s production—but if judging by his behavior, he might be more interested in guest-directing Susie’s heart.

Arty Solomon: Well, well, look who’s all clean and showered! That might not last long, though: Arty (alias: the Beekeeper) has already found his way to the camp’s radio station.

Camp Tigerclaw: While not a person, you might say Camp Tigerclaw itself is almost like another character on the show. In The Movie, Tigerclaw was more of an off-screen concern—“anonymously evil,” Coop called them. (His baseball team, ragtag team of lovable misfits, was slated to play Tigerclaw in the big game before it was canceled on the grounds of being cliché.) But now Wet Hot offers a fuller picture of life on the other side of the lake. The camp was established in 1934 (13 years before Firewood), and while it boasts Jet Skis and veal scaloppini, the most popular activity at Tigerclaw seems to be peering into binoculars.

Blake (Josh Charles): With no less than three popped collars, Blake is your classic Preppy Prick From the Rival Rich Camp. Like all future Skulls and Bones members, Blake’s the type of villain who comes with two yes-men, Graham (Mad Men’s Rich Sommer) and Warner (Eric Nenninger). He’s spent the entire morning spying on Katie, and he doesn’t like what he sees.

Alan Shemper: While he has yet to appear, the beloved entertainer’s name is evoked early on. Mitch warns the junior staff that Shemper’s presence at the end-of-camp talent show (the one from The Movie) is dependent on their good behavior. We of course know that he’ll be there, but I’m praying every night for Shemper to show up before that.

Best Lines (You Know, From Before):

Coop: She’s so funny—she’s like Marla Gibbs level funny.

McKinley: She’s very witty.

Coop: It’s a dry wit.

McKinley, nodding: It’s a very dry wit.

J.J.: Where was she even keeping the airhorn?!

Andy: Nice lady shorts, McKinley.

McKinley: Yeah, I got ’em from your mom’s dresser!

Andy: Hey, man, don’t make fun of the guy who dresses my mom.

McKinley: Oh, I’m sorry man, I didn’t realize… I thought your mom was still dressing yourself.

Andy: Camp Tigerclaw? Don’t you mean Camp Tigerdick? Those guys are prep-school turkeys. Pfft. Skin it.

McKinley: The buses, the buses—who are you, Mitch, Tattoo?!

Coop, to J.J.: That’s Hervé Villechaize.

Coop: Who? What are you, a barn owl? Me, that’s hoo!”

Susie: Electro City is the story of a young man who moves from the country to the city to become a Broadway star… and is immediately sent to the electric chair for a crime that he did not commit. Or did he?

Coop: Kevin, what are you running from?!

Kevin: I don’t want to be here!

Coop: So that’s what this is about.

Drew: What? I like doing stuff like that!

Coop: Hey, J.J., have you seen Donna Berman? Oh, okay, it doesn’t matter, it’s not a big deal at all. I was just asking because, um, we’re dating. I was just kind of wondering where she was, because we’re dating. Not a big deal at all.

Coop: You can’t keep secrets like that at camp. It’s like, I would compare it to how, like, everyone knows that me and Donna Berman are boyfriend and girlfriend.

Coop: We’re definitely a couple. I can confirm that.

Coop (to Donna): Good to see you, you’re my girlfriend.

Coop, talking about his newly mussed hair: Oh, it’s something my girlfriend did. I think it’s kinda weird, but she likes it. You know how it is—woman’s gotta have it!

Donna: Oh, you know Coop, could you actually hold that thought?

Coop: Yeah, I’ll hold it… and hug it. And… kiss it.

Mitch: I was just on the phone with the, uh, the… volleyball… salesman. 

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