In Praise of Donna Berman, ‘Wet Hot American Summer’s’ Liberated Female Libido


Poor Coop. Gerald “Coop” Cooperberg, Michael Showalter’s lovelorn schmuck, star of both Wet Hot American Summer and Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, represents all of us at the most intense moments of our unrequited, irrational teenage crushes. It’s hard not to feel for him.

Yet if Coop represents the ultimate unconsummated teen passion, we should also celebrate the way the movie and TV show never sacrifice the libidos of the hot girls he worships on the altar of his puppy love.

Nope. In fact, at the end of the original movie, his love interest Katie decides to ditch her temporary interest in Coop and go after her dimwitted but horny jerk boyfriend Andy, purely for the sex.

Her monologue is unforgettable, and notable because it arrived long before Trainwreck, or Bridesmaids, or Lena Dunham:

My thing is this: Andy is really hot. And don’t get me wrong, you’re cute too, but Andy is like, *cut*. From marble. He’s gorgeous. He has this beautiful face and this incredible body, and I genuinely don’t care that he’s kinda lame. I don’t even care that he cheats on me. And I like you more than I like Andy, Coop, but I’m 16. And maybe it’ll be a different story when I’m ready to get married, but right now, I am entirely about sex. I just wanna get laid. I just wanna take him and grab him and fuck his brains out, ya know? So that’s where my priorities are right now. Sex. Specifically with Andy and not with you.

The same pattern repeats itself in the prequel. Coop’s early-summer love, Donna — played perfectly by Lake Bell — shows some interest in him, and maybe even sort of acknowledges him as her boyfriend with a kiss here and there. She even presents him with a shofar after a really magical time in Yerushalayim (though he later discovers that she’s giving out shofars left and right).

But Donna’s vapid-meets-deep approach to Coop, and her insistence on giving him a new rock ‘n’ roll look that doesn’t suit him at all, is not about to stop her attraction to Yaron, the sexy Israeli counselor played by Showalter’s co-creator David Wain. Along with Donna, Yaron drops such prurient Jewish wisdom as “The tongue in the mouth can mean so many things. It can mean ‘hello.'” “Or, it can mean ‘goodbye.'” “It can mean ‘peace.'” (This is, of course, a reference to the Hebrew word shalom, whose triple meaning is drilled into Jewish kids’ brains from an early age.)

Donna Berman is the thinking man’s Katie. Where Katie is sweet and normal to the max (is she Jewish? Is she WASP? Experts disagree), Donna is a spiritual seeker who is way into mining her Jewish identity. She’s a different kind of hot girl, and everything about Lake Bell’s portrayal nails this archetype, from Donna’s embrace of spiritual mumbo-jumbo (“my truth” is one catchphrase) to her amazing sexy ’80s overalls worn over a crop top to her willingness to experiment with a threesome. She’s the evolved, DGAF cool chick we all wish we had been at 16.

Most believable of all is Donna’s interest in the skeevy/hot Yaron and his embrace of the true meaning of “kibbutz” (you know: orgies). This last bit is too much for vanilla Coop, who has no choice but to move on to the next crush.

With the stories of Coop’s rejections, and camper Kevin following in his footsteps by throwing his heart at a girl who “doesn’t like him like that,” Wet Hot‘s writers aren’t necessarily explicitly trying to put forward a feminist message. Rather, they’re bursting the bubble of “nice guy” tropes. (They also do this in revealing sexual braggart Victor to be a perennial virgin with performance anxiety.)

In fact, as a Wet Hot fan who identifies far more closely with deluded, late-blooming Coop than with his succession of empowered lady loves, the message feels like a gender-neutral undermining of the biggest teen movie trope of them all: the dork who ends up with the popular kid.

Yet the welcome female sex-positivity is there too. At the risk of getting too analytical about a franchise that’s perfect mostly for its anarchic qualities, it’s worth noting how delightful it is that Donna picks up the baton of lady-boners and runs with it — right after the poorly-accented, sandal-clad Israeli counselor who will lead her to his love-shack (or love-yurt, as it were).