People tend to think of Wet Hot American Summer as a singular, insane voice, one where anything can and will happen. The humor is very specific, but what never seems to get enough credit is just how different everyone is, in terms of what makes them each hilarious. What makes Beth a regular Ruth Buzzi is completely different from what makes Gene or Andy so funny, and the ability to make all these different senses of humor intersect on one show is pretty incredible, as we see in “Auditions.”
One of my biggest fears about First Day of Camp as a prequel is that Henry doesn’t actually enter the Camp Firewood world until the final day of camp. “Auditions” starts by giving us our only real interaction with Henry in the entire series, yet what we get is pretty great. Not only do we get to see Henry back at college, trying to suck up to Dean Fairchild, fighting with his enemy Brodfarb Gilroy—played by Rob Huebel—and attempting to get tenure. In terms of the varying types of humor, Henry has always cracked me up for being what seems like your run of the mill astrophysicist, but it’s his bursts of anger and penchant for throwing things that sound like pottery that makes him one of the film’s best characters.
But this also leads into another reason that First Day of Summer so great, in that it answers questions that we might have never asked. For example, we get to see the lead up to Henry coming to Camp Firewood and why exactly he’s there. It’s a question I would have never thought about had First Day of Camp not presented the story of it. Also we get another State member joining Wet Hot with the appearance of Kerri Kenney as Henry’s realtor.
As the title suggests, “Auditions” focuses primarily on the cast of “Electro City,” setting the stage for Camp Firewood’s big day one production. Once again, I would’ve never questioned where Susie gets her intensity from, but Claude Dumet’s search for perfection and his mind games work perfectly into her aesthetic. As I’ve previously mentioned, this series is excellent at tying in multiple storylines that in the film would’ve been completely separate and bringing them together in a wonderful way that makes sense. Here both Katie and Andy try out for the musical and get the lead parts, meaning that they’ll have to share a big kiss at the end of the show. The Wet Hot film had so many threads going, it’s great to see how this show simplifies these by bounding them together in really interesting ways.
Another perfect example of this is how Gail’s flawed relationships tie into Gene’s ‘Nam past, as Gail does some investigating into who really is Jonas/Gene. Waterville’s library has everything you could want: books on astrophysics, camp counseling and apparently a really thorough ability to do background checks on anybody. Jeff Jeff, played by Randall Park, helps Gail along her way to discovering Jonas/Gene’s dark past and figuring out who this man that she’s about to marry truly is.
This series is also incredibly fantastic at introducing new characters when there’s already a full cast as it is. Just this episode alone, we get Jeff, Kerri Kenney, several people from Henry’s background and John Early as Logan the pumped musical hopeful. We also get Kristin Wiig as Courtney at Camp Tigerclaw, Weird Al Yankovic as hypnotist Jackie Brazen and a further look at Jon Hamm’s The Falcon, President Reagan’s assassin. Yet it’s the introduction of the indoor kids from the film that’s truly wonderful. As the punks that harass Falcon and the shop owner, I’m so glad that they got a chance to appear in the show, even if it is for essentially a fun cameo and little else.
First Day of Camp has so many balls in the air, old and new characters with their own types of humor and a ridiculous amount of plots. But as “Auditions” shows brilliantly, this is an intricately and perfectly organized show that shows that David Wain and Michael Showalter have truly grown as writers, that they can create an incredibly dense world, make it hilarious and also that they care about these characters in a way that has only evolved over the last fifteen years.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. He doesn’t think Rob Huebel is a fuck dick of a shit butt. You can follow him on Twitter.