Summer is upon us so it’s time for some summer film and tv inspiration! In 2001, Michael Showalter and David Wain released Wet Hot American Summer, the movie, to an under-appreciative slew of critics. It has gained a sad 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (but then again, Home Alone 2 got 30% – bit harsh). As usual, with cult comedies, the critics just didn’t get it, but the audience did, and they loved it! So did I, and I’m going to tell you exactly why!
Wet Hot American Summer
Wet Hot American Summer is a satirical comedy set in a fictional summer camp – Camp Firewood. Covering the events of the last day of camp, WHAS explores, and parodies, the best of 80s sex comedies. Paul Rudd (Andy in WHAS) plays a perfect parody of Sean Penn’s character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the film’s story is littered with knowing-nods to cult 80s films.
Sex[ual] comedy is a genre where the comedy is motivated by sexual situations and love affairs, and can be seen quite heavily as the catalyst for every Carry On film. WHAS’s style of humour is very similar to Carry On, it’s very physical, and the comedy spans outside of just the dialogue. But its overall aim of parodying the silliness of society’s ideals is much more the point here.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
The 80s, in hindsight, were a defining time for transparency of inequality and excess. A lot of great 80s films that have stood the test of time are about that struggle of the classes. Gone were the days of feminism and empowering women. Suddenly people began discussing the ways in which being working class can cause struggle in modern society, so the political focus in music, film and art switched direction. (One of the few directors to really discuss both Feminist and Working Class issues at this time was John Hughes. Take a look at Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink or St Elmo’s Fire.)
Specifically setting Wet Hot American Summer (2001 film) in the 80s creates an expectation that it is only a parody of the 80s. It is also a parody of all strangely meaningless, but accepted, social norms and judgements. Much like what 80s punks also attempted to reject. The act of making you (the viewer) uncomfortable for the sake of the comedy, is a skill that is very rarely achieved successfully in film. WHAS, however, thrives on it. The ‘I Said No!’ scene with David Hyde Pierce and Janeane Garofalo, is a great example of how awkward social situations really can be.
WHAS lets its characters say and do everything they [think they] want to say or do, (because they can) regardless of the consequence. It’s an exaggerated parody, which can be the gateway to real perspective, if executed properly. Perspective can make you laugh at yourself, and sometimes that’s the only comedy you really need. A film that can make you laugh, and remind you of how silly everything really is. That is the perfect comedy in my eyes. It is the comedy for the ‘outsiders’ of society, that’s for sure.
The Cast of Wet Hot American Summer
In 2015, Netflix developed a prequel series with the original cast, set on the First Day Of Camp. August 2017 they released a sequel series to the film called 10 Years Later. Which leads me to present my strongest case for the public viewing of Wet Hot American Summer, and that is the cast.
A year after the 2001 film, Paul Rudd appeared on Friends, followed swiftly with Anchorman. And the rest is history. WHAS, in hindsight, can be seen as the breakthrough film for many crowd-favourite comedy actors, including Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Joe Lo Truglio, Amy Poehler, Zak Orth, Ken Marino and A.D. Miles. Even more reason to watch it, right? Because everybody starts somewhere.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (2015)
14 years after the original film release, Netflix decided to help bring Camp Firewood back to life. With almost all of the original cast on board, they delved into the world of being 16 again, with the prequel First Day of Camp. With most of the cast in their 40s, this is an expected element of the humour of WHAS. We all know they’re too old to play these characters. Hell, Coop (Michael Showalter) looks like a completely different person. But that’s what this is about. Humour for humour’s sake.
First Day of Camp follows the events of the first day, with each episode covering a few hours each time. Two stories that run throughout the series are inspired by the ‘best bits’ of the original film – Electro-City: The Musical and a new character, played by the brilliant Chris Pine. With most sitcoms normalising canned laughter, it’s refreshing when you come across a comedy that truly makes you laugh – because of how funny it is, not because you’re being told to laugh. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is everything I was hoping for.
Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later
10 Years Later is a callback to the 2001 film, where they all agree to meet again 10 years later. It was expected that they would follow through with this joke, and I think they delivered! The premise is that each of the characters are busy with their own lives; some successfully, some not so well. There are new characters, who in perfect WHAS style, are forced into old scenes as if they were always there – we just never saw them.
There’s a new ‘King of Camp’ who Andy (Paul Rudd) has a run in with, which leads to a “battle”; a series of tasks they have to win to be crowned the true King of Camp. Overall 10 Years Later is the most bizarre and throw-care-to-the-wind series of the franchise. Perfect for if you’re really just down for a bit of a wtf? belly laugh, or you love when Paul Rudd plays a character who is partially the butt of the joke.
Wet Hot American Summer Soundtrack
Wet Hot American Summer has music even Always Sunny’s Charlie would be envious of. With a combination of 80s rock classics and new songs by Craig Wedren and Theodore Shapiro, the franchise has one of the most authentic soundtracks of any modern 80s inspired series. It also inspired me to do a full soundtrack playlist which you can listen to on your chosen platform below.
Or follow the Spotify playlist here!
So if you’re looking for something to watch on these warmer nights, give Wet Hot American Summer a chance, and I promise you’ll get at least a laugh or two… if not a barrel!
Until the next one, take a look out my other Film & TV posts for some movie night inspo!