“Andy, you are 26 years old. What is wrong with you! When are you going to grow up? We can’t be teenagers forever.”
That above quote is said to Paul Rudd’s Andy Fleckner as a simple gag. It pokes fun at the actual age of the actors that are playing these characters, but therein also lies the central “flaw” of Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later. As fun as all of these camp shenanigans may be, these people can’t just continue doing this forever. However, this is at least something that the series is well aware of and embraces wholeheartedly.
It’s bonkers that Ten Years Later even happened at all. One prequel season was a surprising gift in itself. This is the extra marshmallow in the s’more. If last season was the unexpected reunion tour, then this is the sloppy, drunken after party that follows. Sure, it’s less polished, but it’s all dessert anyway.
Much like First Day of Camp, this season takes this eclectic group of campers and puts them back into Camp Firewood, only now it’s ten years later as opposed to the beginning of their adventure. First Day of Camp does some glorious dot connecting to David Wain’s 2001 cult classic film, while also pulling off deep inside baseball jokes, like the introduction of Jim Stansel or seeing the birth of the anthem, “Higher and Higher.” Obviously with this new season taking place after everything, there’s little to few dots that need to be connected now, which as a result does lead to the trivial feeling that’s sometimes present through this season. Make no mistake, this is all undeniably a great time, but there’s not the same sort of satisfaction to be derived from the material this time around.
While the last installment was about building connections, this one is very much about breaking them to pieces and starting anew, which is only fitting considering this season revolves around Camp Firewood being literally torn down. The fun is in seeing the radical places that everyone has ended up rather than marveling at their clever origin stories. In that sense, the first episode spends the majority of its time simply introducing everyone and catching up the audience.
In an eight-episode season this might feel like a bit of a waste, but with dozens of characters, what are they supposed to do here? The only real answer it to have a longer season, but with First Day of Camp also being a mere eight episodes, that seems to be the pattern that these guys are following. The season certainly could have used a few more episodes this time though. Similarly, this season—more than last season—really feels like it should be watched in one sitting like a long movie. Doing so would even help some of the material flow a little better, too.
Ten Years Later also suffers a little in the sense that it feels particularly broken up when it comes to the actors. Characters are grouped together into their own divided stories, but the entire cast isn’t intermingling as a whole. This issue is not as negligible as how Children’s Hospital would maneuver around scheduling and availability during its later seasons (or what was going on in Arrested Development’s fourth season), but is noticeable. The season as a whole feels more isolated than the previous one. For instance, in one of the more blatant, cavalier (but also hilarious) examples of this sort of thing, Joe Lo Truglio’s Neil decides to “take a nap” for four episodes only to wake up in the later half of the season, when he’s got the time to step in.
These minor quibbles aside, none of the many storylines feel rushed and everything is given enough time to breathe. It’s a real delicate balancing act that never shows its hand. The characters deal with the insecurity over who they’ve turned into through the years, however everyone is going through this same problem. At their core, they’re still those ridiculous teenagers from summer camp, and so are these actors, no matter how old they are. That’s sort of the point here.
As Ten Years Later navigates around this hemorrhaging cast of characters, it has a lot of fun with things like Andy’s quarter-life crisis, what the continued adventures of McKinley and Ben look like, or the A-Team-esque action scenes involving two characters that should be dead. John Early is golden and everything he does here is perfect and while David Hyde Pierce’s Professor Henry Neumann may not fill a large role this time, my favorite joke from the entire season comes from him. There’s no shortage of things to rave about.
Ten Years Later also gleefully wallows in glorious ‘90s jokes to make sure that the audience never forgets exactly when this season is taking place. It’s also probably the only place you’re going to hear Laura San Giacomo get brought up any time soon (unfortunately). First Day of Camp had this same sort of fun with the ‘80s, but this season is much more meta than the material’s ever been before. There’s also supernatural weirdness afoot too because of course there is. Elements like hidden nuclear fallout shelters entering the mix are so crazy, yet oddly fitting. This universe slowly stretching its boundaries has allowed for insane developments to seem plausible.
It doesn’t matter what actually happens at Camp Firewood because crafting a beautiful story about friendship and all of these evergreen topics is infinitely more inspiring than some uneventful tale where some old friends from camp get together. Life isn’t always exciting and full of adventure—which can sometimes increasingly be the case when you get older—but as long as you still have imagination, the most mundane encounters can turn into unbelievable legends. Here’s a story that’s meant to keep people happy and their spirit alive. And is that really so bad, especially when we’re all getting older and life is sinking in?
Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later might spend a little too much time roasting on the campfire, but it’s still an immensely enjoyable endeavor that showcases a bunch of exemplary comedians who have now been laughing together for decades. Even if these installments get worse or progressively less interesting (where are things headed next? To the 1920s with the first Camp Firewood? To the Firewood Grille?), I’ll still be eagerly watching because these guys are just having too much damn fun telling these ridiculous stories.
Walla Walla Hoo.
Walla Walla Hay.
The entire season of Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is available to stream on Netflix on August 4th
This review is based on all eight half-hour episodes in Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later’s season.