Since Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’s entire season comes out all at once, ready for binge-watching, its first two episodes seem like one hour-long series premiere. “Campers Arrive” is more of a reintroduction to the characters that are constant: Coop is still having trouble with love, Beth is still a regular Ruth Buzzi, Andy is still a douchebag, etc. But the second episode “Lunch” saves all the big reveals that will add so much depth to these characters and retroactively to the movie as well. It’s like “The Beekeeper” says, the first day of camp is “when you let everyone know who you are,” and “Lunch” absolutely does that in several phenomenal ways.
Maybe the greatest reveal in the entire season is that Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) has been Never Been Kissing the entire Camp Firewood. As a 24-year-old reporter for “Rock & Roll World Magazine,” she decides with the right clothes she can pass for a 16-year-old and get the real scoop on what the teenagers are doing when the parents aren’t around. Not only does this slightly help explain why everyone looked like they were in their 30s in the film, but also makes Lindsay—more of a MacGuffin in the film than anything—instantly into one of the most interesting girls at camp.
Speaking of the film, as you might remember, Gail von Kleinenstein (Molly Shannon) was still reeling over her failed relationship, most notably with a man named Jonas. Well as it turns out, we’ve known Jonas all along, but we knew him better as Gene the cook! (Christopher Meloni). Of course Jonas is much different than the Gene we all know and love, but maybe that’s because he doesn’t have his old friend, the talking can of vegetables.
I’d also say one of the smartest decisions in this show is to almost immediately explain why the hell there’s a talking can of vegetables in Wet Hot American Summer. As soon as we see Mitch (H. Jon Benjamin) explaining why he allowed Xenstar to dump toxic waste at the camp, while standing in front of said waste with the can in his hands, it becomes very clear that this is how the “transformation” happened. Maybe the most confounding thing for new viewers of Wet Hot American Summer is that damn can. Now those people finally have their explanation.
“Lunch” is just filled with these little revelations that are absolutely hilarious and add material to the actual films. It’s great seeing Abby Bernstein turning into a woman—literally from a child into a woman—at the exact moment she gets her first period. Or after deleting himself out of his own film, finally seeing David Wain appear as Yaron, Coop’s competition in the affection of Donna.
However possibly my favorite joke in the entire series is when Kevin shits his bathing suit and hides it in the woods. When Drew finds it and confronts Kevin with the evidence, Kevin claims that someone must’ve stolen his swimsuit, shit in it and then tried to hide it—the exact same excuse Christopher Meloni’s character in They Came Together used after shitting his Halloween costume. This comes so close to just reusing the same joke before Meloni pitches in with the brilliant punchline “that’s the only logical explanation.” But to add even more onto that, Coop pops up in a makeshift old lady costume, pretending to be Ms. Patti Pancakes, a deranged woman who steals kids’ bathing suits, shits in them, then hides them, because it’s a game to her. It’s such a wonderful joke in this series, taking an already phenomenal moment from They Came Together, only to repurpose it, build on it and create something even more hilarious.
I’ve watched this episode three times already and gone back to the film since and what makes these little extra bits of information so fantastic is that it adds this whole new layer to the film. I think the biggest fear with the continuation of any of these types of pop culture icons is that it can ruin the original product, but First Day of Camp rather just adds this wonderful newer level that could’ve never been expected prior to this series.
But after watching the series, I defy you to not think in the back of your head, “oh yeah, 24-year-old Lindsay is making out with a 17-year-old Andy right now” or think about the strange relationship between Gail and “Jonas” that’s doomed before we even know Jonas is Gene. First Day of Camp and “Lunch” in particular is like discovering a treasure trove of new information about characters you love, which then makes perfect sense when going back to the original material.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. But he’s from Manhattanville. In Ohio. The center-up-state-down. You can follow him on Twitter.