Whenever cast members from Wet Hot American Summer talk about the making of the film, they almost always liken it to an actual camp experience. A few weeks in dumpy lodges, bonding, having fun and avoiding the rain with some great new people. As great as the film is, it mostly separates all of its characters on their own hilarious adventures, occasionally meeting up at times, but never quite presenting that community feeling that this group seems to have truly found in real life. Fifteen years later, the entire cast reunited for what might be the best show this year, so clearly this experience meant something to them, just as it does to the campers at Firewood. As the first day of camp winds down in “Day is Done,” we see for the first time in front of the camera that sense of community that they clearly felt.
The world of Wet Hot American Summer isn’t exactly all that interested in plot, considering that the movie and series often choose whatever is funniest over explanations that actually make sense. Even considering this though, “Day Is Done” smartly gives us hilarious outcomes to these stories, but also makes them incredibly satisfying as well. For example, after watching Kevin get his heartbroken last episode after chasing Amy the entire series, we catch up with him the morning after, depressed and lonely. Yet once he returns to the cabin, Coop explains in one giant runoff sentence all the insane stuff he’s basically missed since he’s been searching for love. But what makes Kevin’s entire story worthwhile is the simplicity with which it’s wrapped up. Kevin ends the series much like Coop ended the film, with a counselor that’s willing to help him with his heartbreak. Yet it’s the conclusion with Drew that is great, as with a simple invitation to play Yahtzee, Kevin and Drew go from enemies to new summer friends. There’s this sense that even though he hasn’t found his camp romance yet, at least he has a group of people who will make this the best summer ever for him.
Like I’ve said throughout this season, First Day of Camp has been very impressive in how it ties all of these character’s various stories together and weaves them between each other in fascinating ways, but it’s the show’s ability to combine almost all of them in the end that is unbelievable. In “Day Is Done”’s final scenes, it is able to tie in the Katie-Andy-Blake love triangle, Beth’s fight against Xenstar (and, by extension, the entire U.S. government), Gail’s love life, Lindsay’s journalist past and Eric’s attempts to create his comeback masterpiece. Wet Hot American Summer’s ability to combine all of these stories into one by the end of the series is masterful and a true sign of growth, showing just how far David Wain and Michael Showalter have come as writers so far in their careers.
Once again though, the way it ends these random stories is absolutely hilarious and often touching as well. The fight between Gene and The Falcon is funny, but it’s Falcon’s attempted escape from Beth’s questioning about the show’s plot holes that makes this scene brilliant. It’s a clear sign that the series is far more interested in making its audience laugh than making sense (as if the film’s creation of a talking vegetable can wasn’t enough to make that clear), but in this world, those things aren’t exactly separate from each other.
But “Day is Done”’s wonderful second-half is not only the best aspect of the entire series, but is one of the best season finales I’ve maybe ever seen. When confronted by a mob of Camp Tigerclaw counselors engaging in a very Anchorman-ish fight (Paul Rudd must love a good brawl), it’s Eric playing “Higher & Higher” from the literal rooftops that brings everyone together, persuading them not to be Camp Firewood or Camp Tigerclaw, but to be “camp people.” This moment is tremendous, not just because of how funny it is, but in how it unites Camp Firewood into a unified family, one that despite all of their quibbles and problems with each other, will bring them together to fight for their camp. “Higher & Higher” is no longer a fun montage song—it’s now a unifying anthem that can save friendship. Thanks to First Day of Camp, even the silliest song from the film now has a more intricate, exciting meaning to it than it did before the show.
When Ronald Reagan leaves Tigerclaw, Ron von Kleinenstein stays behind to clean up the toxic sludge, the second day of camp begins, and the camp almost resets. There’s this sense that every day is filled with this much excitement and almost like Groundhog Day, once this camp wakes up, the adventure begins again, but with different stakes and situations. Yet at the end of every day, Beth will save the camp, Victor will still be a virgin, Coop will still be confused about love and everything that breaks will sound like a potted plant.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is pretty much a comedic masterpiece, extending an already phenomenal comedy into its own entire world, full of expanded depth, introducing us to excellent new characters and showing us completely new sides of old friends. First Day of Camp didn’t have to flesh out this universe in the way it did, but the show’s handling of this film that is precious to so many only makes the film and the show better in tandem. First Day of Camp beautifully expands on everything we thought we knew but also turns it on its head, without ruining it, while being just as funny and even more touching. It’s also filled with enough tiny jokes that it’s worth several rewatches.
With Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, Michael Showalter, David Wain and everyone involved gave us the best summer possible.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. I completely agree that there are a lot of elements to this that do not make sense. I’m not at you, I’m just frustrated as well. Now I’m gonna squirt some cherry juice on my pubic mound. You can follow him on Twitter.