Wet Hot American Summer is an endlessly quotable film that’s probably more famous for the current A-list actors among its cast than the actual script itself; Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, and Elizabeth Banks are among the current stars who made names for themselves in the 2001 film. And while their return in 2015 for the eight-episode prequel series brought a lot of laughter and mined the first film’s premise for worthy material, this set of episodes falls flat.
Set up by a throwaway gag in the first film, Ten Years Later revisits the gang as they make their way back to Camp Firewood for a ten year reunion. The idea is to see what wonderful people they’ve blossomed into. As if to remind us of this, the series actually begins with an abbreviated version of this scene.
The cast themselves do the best they can with the material, and the series does its best to include everyone it could despite the notable absence of Cooper, whose character is played ably by Adam Scott and whose casting is waved away by plastic surgery to repair a deviated septum. Elizabeth Banks and Joe Lo Truglio’s roles are also truncated, owing due to schedule conflicts.
Paul Rudd makes a return as Andy, the denim-jacket clad slacker who has evolved into a grunge-listening, Soundgarden tee wearing ne’er do well whose main character arc is a preoccupation with reclaiming his glory days from the new teenage king of the camp, Deegs (Skyler Gisondo). Amy Poehler’s Susie also has to deal with complications, including feeling out her boyfriend Garth’s emotions and battling a overenthusiastic new head drama counselor. Michael Showalter and Marguerite Moreau continue to dance around one another as Coop and Katie, would-be lovers who constantly get pulled away by other people or problems.
The rest of the ensemble gets their own subplots, too, including a crazed nanny (inspired by The Hand That Rocks the Cradle), a shadowy conspiracy on the part of President Ronald Reagan (previously appearing in First Day of Camp and played by Ronald Reagan), and the devious machinations of the prepsters at wealthy Camp Tigerclaw.
The problem with the series is that while the cast does a decent job with the material, there’s just too much of it. Part of the problem of introducing new characters in First Day of Camp—as well as new characters for this series specifically—is that an already talented and full ensemble just gets even more crowded. No one really gets much time to truly develop, and many of characters end up as caricatures. If scenes with Michael Showalter talking to his editor (Melanie Lynskey) are any indication, this series owes its existence to a desire to “finish” a story that had already been more or less finished in the first place. We didn’t need to see how any of these characters would end up in the future because they’d been given more or less complete arcs.
And all of this is only compounded by a final two episodes that, even by the standards set by the film and its prequel series, make almost no sense whatsoever. The first film benefited from a ridiculous, if slightly plausible set of problems. What First Day of Camp and Ten Years Later accomplish by including presidential conspiracies and undetonated nuclear weapons is to ratchet the absurdity up to eleven—at the detriment to the characters themselves.
I really wanted to like Ten Years Later. I was excited to sit down and watch it and see where these characters have gone and what new jokes there were to enjoy. And even though I knew I shouldn’t have expected anything truly heartfelt from a series based on a broad parody of source materials, I’m still disappointed. After eight episodes and four hours, what I really want to do is sit down and watch other reunion films like Mike Binder’s Indian Summer and Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill. Which makes sense, because this series could have been a stellar film.
Those films may be a lot more maudlin and cliche, but there’s more heart in their running time than in all of Ten Years Later.