If someone had told USA Films, the distributor of Wet Hot American Summer, that the movie would redeem itself tenfold and go on to have one of the strongest cult film followings of the past decade, their reaction might have been nonplussed, to say the least. But alas, the David Wain/Michael Showalter-written classic has vindicated its reputation not only with the forgiveness of time, but with the release of a Netflix prequel series called Wet Hot American Summer: The First Day of Camp. Where the film recounts the events of the last day, the series serves as an elaborate back story for the characters populating Camp Firewood.
Some people we’ve never met before (e.g. Mitch, the original camp director who would go on to become a can of mixed vegetables as a result of being mutated by toxic waste), and some we’ve seen all too often–albeit from quite a different perspective. Case in point is camp counselor Coop (Showalter), who, instead of being in love with Katie (Marguerite Moreau), is obsessed with reuniting with Donna Berman (Lake Bell), another counselor he thought he shared a meaningful sexual exchange (a.k.a. a few kisses) with the summer prior. Her ambiguous reaction to his assumption that the two are boyfriend/girlfriend keeps Coop guessing, especially when she starts acting flirtatious toward Yaron (David Wain), an Israeli with game.
Elsewhere, we’re privy to how exactly it is that Katie came to be with Andy (Paul Rudd), who comes off as a softer version of a douche bag in the prequel as he tries to win Katie’s affections from Blake McCarthy (Josh Charles), a counselor at the bougier Camp Tigerclaw across the lake. In fact, Blake’s constant spying on Katie leads him to start an all-out war with Camp Firewood by the end of the series after seething to himself and his uppity friends for every episode prior to the final standoff. Even the coquettish and dainty Courtney (Kristen Wiig), a fellow Tigerclaw camper, gets in on the action by stabbing at random with an oyster fork. Courtney is just one of the many additions to the story who seem to be a natural part of the ongoing Wet Hot American Summer saga. Another among the added characters is Eric (Chris Pine), a recluse/musical genius who finds his inspiration when Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) enters his life unexpectedly for the sake of getting a scoop for Rock and Roll World magazine. And this, too, is another unexpected back story: Lindsay’s previously unknown history as an undercover journalist, who ends up liking the camp so much that she stays even after she’s exposed thanks to her saving the day from Reagan and his army destroying the camp (yes, everyone seems to have it in for Camp Firewood).
Elsewhere, theater geeks Susie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Bradley Cooper) are putting on a musical production of Electro-City, with the help of veteran Broadway producer Claude Dumet (John Slattery), who seduces Susie with his brusque auditioning skills. Although Susie and Ben are technically “together,” it becomes quite clear why Ben doesn’t want to lose his virginity to her, as he’s hopelessly in love with McKinley (Michael Ian Black), another theater enthusiast. This plot point, indeed, helps to explain the abrupt butt fucking scene between them in the film version.
Another interesting character origin story is that of Gene Jenkinson (Christopher Meloni) a.k.a. Jonas Jurgenson, a Vietnam veteran who is engaged to arts and crafts counselor Gail (Molly Shannon) at the outset. His preoccupation with Mitch as the can of mixed vegetables helping him to protect the camp from the government, as well as a bizarre entanglement with a black ops solider named Falcon (Jon Hamm), causes him to lose Gail’s interest–she ends up marrying someone else at their wedding.
Each character has his or her own strange explanation for how things came to be on the last day of camp. And while the arcs for some, like playboy-posing virgin Victor (Ken Marino), are a bit linear, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp succeeds at adding some previously unknown layers to the film–and all with a very Airplane!-like bent (made all the more absurd by how much older everyone looks in their teenage roles).