Summer Pilot Review: Camp

Photo courtesy of NBC.

Photo courtesy of NBC.

NBC, Wednesdays @ 9pm/8c   |   Pilot episode is online until 09/22/13

It’s an hourlong dramedy about summer camp. And by summer camp, I mean sex.

Maybe the juxtaposition of the child campers frolicking and the adult counselors all trying to bang each other isn’t as horrifying to you as it is to me. But it took some powerful cognitive dissonance and a small amount of regret at never having been a camp counselor as a teenager to really be able to enjoy Camp.

But after I learned to stop worrying and love the camp, I really did enjoy it. 

I enjoyed it like I enjoy Chinese buffets and the cologne aisle at Walmart. Indulgently, with a hint of guilt.

The entire cast is populated with what appear to be extras from the Twilight series. But the show is mercifully heavy on the “medy” of the dramedy genre, and so all of these beautiful, beautiful people mostly flow seamlessly from scene to scene without needing to really act very well.

The main characters of Camp are fetching. The supporting cast and, indeed, the entire premise of the show, hinges on a series of rather tired clichés (this teenage boy really wants to have sex before the summer is overthese attractive, haughty teenage girls are excluding the equally attractive but paler new girl). The fact that the leads – camp owner and recent divorcee Mack, emotionally sensitive and verging-on-meta self-aware Kip, and the sex-obsessed but brilliant Buzz (“I ate bees when I was a kid,” he says dismissively) – are well-written, funny, likable, and maybe even creative is what takes Camp from another tired NBC sitcom and turns it into something worth watching.

Let’s take a moment and discuss Rachel Griffiths, who is really the only recognizable face in the entire cast. NBC advertises this show as “Rachel Griffiths’ Camp,” which is an obvious ploy to attract an older audience who might be familiar with her on Brothers and Sisters, which my mom absolutely loved. Griffiths plays her role as the woman in charge, whose life has completely fallen apart with a sort of controlled hysteria worthy of Tina Fey herself. 

The whole show balances its multigenerational appeal in a way that surely makes NBC’s peacock alert with excitement. There are three different levels of story going on here, though the little kids are only ever in the background, occasionally popping in to interrupt the grownups talking about S-E-X. But the teenaged counselors and the adults who are for some reason at summer camp with their kids all weave together in a quilt of interpersonal drama. And by the end, you feel that wonderful sense of inclusion that only comes in weird, enclosed group activities like a summer camp.

Okay, so why do I feel guilty liking Camp? Its biggest problem is the fact that it’s an hourlong show on NBC. Its running time means that it inevitably has the time flesh out subplots and minor characters, most of which are pretty uninteresting. Its network means that the show is on the precipice of the unfunny valley of inappropriateness. Let me illustrate:

 

The problems with the unfunny valley are familiar to all of us: contrived edginess, half-controversies, an awkward almost-embrace of drugs and other dangerous anti-social behavior. In other words, GleeCamp is skiing on the slopes of the valley, occasionally dipping in during its FCC-approved brief sex scenes. Maybe it’s the fact that the concept is, as I’ve stated, a little on the creepy side, that makes me wish they would just go balls deep.

But that’s not what this show is, so if you found Glee unwatchable for its valleyness, then you’ll almost certainly find something to dislike in Camp.

Nonetheless, even if the drama is a little/a lotta hokey and some of the younger actors are a little stilted, Camp manages to evoke an infectious, sincere zest for life. It’s that sincerity that separates it from the pack. If you’re old, it’ll make you feel young, and if you’re young, it’ll make you feel like going to camp.

VERDICT: Watch it.  

“I’ve always hated this car, but I must say it’s roomy and well-upholstered.” – Rachel Griffiths’ Mack, as she is macking an Aussie dude in a car.

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