This is all part of what makes the series so much unabashed fun. The movie is full of weirdness and eccentrics, of escalating drug-binges, Gene’s (Christopher Meloni) sporadic oversharing, and that always-funny glass-breaking sound effect. Most of it didn’t make much sense because it wasn’t supposed to make sense. The prequel tries to make the nonsensical sensical by putting an even bigger emphasis on the absurd. Within the first six episodes (there are eight total), in addition to all the usual camp-parody fare, there is also a big court trial and a deep government conspiracy that temporarily switches the genre into a thriller. And, surprisingly, it works.
Nearly everything in First Day of Camp works. There are some slight growing pains, as to be expected (especially considering the bloated runtime) but the actors’ straight-faced commitment (“I’m sixteen-years-old”) combined with Wain and Showalter’s established brand of humor makes every episode something special. The series is full of cameos (Jason Schwartzman, Kristen Wiig, multiple Mad Men alumni) who aren’t showing off to distract from the show but instead trying their best to fit in with the world. The sly physical comedy (the counselors are all apparently the slowest-running people in the world) and the ridiculous spectacle (a play titled “Electro City”), and Andy’s throwaway lines (“I was thinking about watching you ride a horse later”) are just as funny, if not funnier, than they were in the original.
One of the most impressive feats of First Day of Camp is that it is, at once, a perfect continuation of a cult hit that caters to its original audience and a solid, welcoming introduction to this strange little summer camp for new audiences. It’s funny on its own but it’s also chockfull of references and callbacks, providing rewards for its obsessive fans (because all Wet Hot American Summer fans, myself included, are obsessive). Everything about First Day of Camp feels like a miracle — getting all the actors back, staying faithful to the film, and going to some pretty weird narrative extremes even for a sitcom — but the biggest surprise is that it’s even better than expected.