I have never been the biggest fan of the original ‘Wet Hot American Summer‘. Although it has attained cult status over the years, I never found the film to be memorable as others do. In fact, when Netflix revived the franchise a little over two years ago with an eight episode prequel series titled “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp“, I pretty much had the same feeling. With the latest entry in the revival, “Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later“, we finally get a true sequel to to the original. And the premise is simple: the campers and counsels of camp firewood reunite a decade later to fulfill their promise made in the first film. Hilarity ensues. But the question still remains; does it follow the aforementioned trend of it’s predecessors? Well, the simple answer is no–but the more complicated answer, is inevitably yes.
For me, the most memorable aspect of this franchise has always been the incredible cast. To be honest, the actors’ chemistry bouncing off one another is something that has enticed me to return to this franchise again. Paul Rudd, Marguerite Moreau, Janeane Garofalo, Joe Lo Truglio, Christopher Meloni, Ken Marino, Molly Shannon, Michael Ian Black, Zak Orth, Michael Showalter, Kristen Wiig, Marisa Ryan, Lake Bell, A.D. Miles, Nina Hellman, John Early, Josh Charles, Sarah Burns, Amy Poehler, Beth Dover, David Wain, Chris Pine, David Hyde Pierce, Eric Nenninger, Jason Schwartzman, Rich Sommer, Samm Levine, H. Jon Benjamin and Elizabeth Banks all return, and by god is that one hell of a comedy ensemble. Despite what seems like an overloaded cast for what is a relatively short 8 episode season, everyone gets their due and has moments to shine. Just as it was with First Day of Camp, one of the inherent problems with Ten Years Later is also because there isn’t really a main character, and it ultimately serves as a detriment to the show.
By focusing on the giving all of the actors specific moments to shine, many scenes and plot threads amount to just that–moments. There certainly is a little more attention put into these plot threads of this series than it’s predecessor (partly due to it not being a prequel). There a clear set-ups and that pay off fairly well toward the end, there’s still not enough meat on it’s bones for me to invest in any of the various storylines and actually care. Some of the storylines are more interesting than others, but they basically amount to one-off jokes that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Sure–there are various funny moments spread throughout–but the series really pays most everything off by the 3 hour mark, making the impending climax a near snooze-fest. In the final episode, creators David Wain and Michael Showalter do their best to delay the resolution of the story of the so much that they only give themselves a few minutes in the series finale to tie everything up. They try to wrap up everything in a nice little bow at the end, but it feels hamfisted and un-organic.
While the last two episodes do have their moments, the comedy as a whole works best on a scene-to-scene basis. Most of the bits that made me laugh the most were some of the simplest, throw-away jokes. What works best about the comedy in ’10 Years Later’ is how aware it is of it’s own absurdity. And if there was any word to best describe this series, it would be that–absurd. Basically everything with Ronald Reagan (Schowalter) and George H.W Bush (Black) is comedic gold. There’s one sequence in particular towards the climax, when Eric (Pine) and Greg (Schwartzman) are trying to defuse a ticking time bomb, which leads to a supremely hilarious sequence that makes no sense, but absolutely works within the the style of comedy that they’ve set up so far. Many of the jokes are extremely self-referential, almost to the show’s detriment. But at the same time, the fact that the show realizes that it’s how ridiculous it’s being in these certain moments almost redeems everything else that it’s lacking.
But this is also seems to be the ultimate conundrum for this show: despite having absolutely hilarious moments, they aren’t enough to justify each member of the ensemble getting their due when it comes to each of their respective storylines. The downfall of almost every entry in the ‘Wet Hot American Summer’ series is that it has too thin of a plot for me to really care about what’s happening. For the most part, all of the situations in the show are funny in one way or another. But it’s the cohesion of story that feels so scattered throughout the story of ‘Ten Years Later‘ that makes it so frustrating. Ultimately however, the jokes are good enough that they can keep you going through the series’ 8 episode arc, even if they don’t pay off they way that you would want them to.