The creators of Wet Hot American Summer are really milking this thing, aren’t they. The First Day of Camp prequel alone was hardly necessary back in 2015. To be fair, however, that ended up being a really funny season of TV. I’m not even a fan of the original movie, but First Day of Camp proved that you could successfully bring an ensemble back together years later in ways that Arrested Development’s Season 4 failed to. First Day of Camp was clearly an anomaly, though, because Ten Years Later is the kind of flop you would expect when resurrecting past properties.
One of the big jokes in First Day of Camp was that these actors were playing younger versions of themselves, but in Ten Years Later, that doesn’t quite work anymore. The characters are older, and the actors are (significantly) older. They couldn’t even get Bradley Cooper to make a brief cameo in this one, but instead of writing his character off, they replaced him with Adam Scott, who’s also not in it that much. It’s impressive the talent they brought in, but given everyone’s obviously busy schedules, the show is less an ensemble and more a series of unrelated “where are they now” vignettes.
What’s even stranger is that they shoehorned in two new characters who weren’t in the original movie or prequel and then spent a huge amount of time with these people we have no reason to care about. Their love triangle isn’t interesting. Coop’s new love triangle isn’t interesting. Hell, none of the side stories are interesting. It all feels so… pointless. It’s just snippets of, “Hey, remember this? Hey, remember her?” with the very occasional, actually funny joke. While those few good jokes did make me laugh, the season as a whole simply didn’t need to exist and sours the goodwill First Day of Camp generated.
For a TV show that has the word “friends” in the title, this is some of the most unbelievable camaraderie I’ve ever seen. These people don’t feel like friends at all. Sure, the dialogue constantly reminds you that they have history, and the montages scream, “Look, we’re having fun together!” but it’s all so forced. I guess you could argue that, being horrible people, they don’t have many other options. But the characters aren’t comically horrible like the gang from It’s Always Sunny. They’re more like the characters from The League: upper-class assholes who get enjoyment out of sabotaging each other. At least The League was pretty funny in its first few seasons. Friends From College simply has no sense of humor.
I’m actually confused how I should have approached this show. Was it supposed to be a comedy? It seldom tries to be funny, and when it does attempt comedy, it fails on cringe-worthy levels. I think the show would have been better received if it just went all-out drama and re-cast everyone. I don’t know why you would bring in actors like Keegan-Michael Key and Billy Eichner if you’re just going to subdue their normally manic personalities. Occasionally, Key will talk in a funny voice or flail around, but those moments of “levity” are so out of place with the rest of the cast. His random, jokey behavior doesn’t excuse the fact that his character’s a dick, anyway.
So one of the main story threads is that Key’s character has been cheating on his wife with another woman… who happens to be in the same circle of friends. Yeah, hard to root for a guy in that situation. And if watching one affair isn’t bad enough, the show introduces a second affair within the same circle of friends in the last few episodes. Seriously, these people have no respect for each other. At least the friends from It’s Always Sunny and The League had something in common to keep them together. Here, I just never saw a connection. They were friends, because it’s a TV show. They were cheating on each other… because it’s a TV show. A pretty bad TV show, to boot.
Season 1 had a scene where young Bill caught an unfortunate glimpse of his father’s ball sack. It was gross, sure, but it helped build up Bill’s childhood trauma in hilarious ways. In Season 2, however, the character they’re trying to traumatize is you, the viewer. They really doubled down on the crassness and vulgarity, because we get a full-on view of Vic’s penis this time around, a fat prostitute with saggy breasts that won’t stay in her blouse, an exploding guy who sprays blood on everyone, and a statutory rape scene. It’s all cartoonish and played for laughs, of course, but it is a bit much, particularly for a show that worked so well when it stayed grounded.
I’m still a little bothered by the statutory rape episode. I’m not saying 14-year old Kevin wouldn’t have done what he did in that situation, but I find it hard to believe that the older woman involved mistook him as “short for his age.” Yep, that was the jokey pay-off there. Might as well have been a Family Guy cutaway gag… Every secondary character on this show is a joke, really, and not in a good way. Their voices are grating, and their personalities are pretty one-note. This is in stark contrast to the Murphy family members, who so expertly come across as real people with real problems.
Sadly, F is for Family has started to channel Family Guy more and more. Season 2 drags the Murphys down a little too far into depravity to the point where it’s hard to even root for them anymore. And yet, like Peter’s frequent, end-of-episode “ah jeez, I’m sorry Lois” speeches, we’re to believe everyone has learned their lesson and forgiven each other in much the same way. The show has too quickly embraced being a cartoon—an adult cartoon, no less—but doesn’t know how to balance the silly with the serious like BoJack Horseman has been able to. Not that the world needs two BoJack Horsemen, but there’s a reason why that one is Netflix’s cartoon jewel, and this one isn’t.
You can take the boys out of Sunnyvale trailer park, but you can’t take Sunnyvale out of… well, I take that back. Even though Ricky, Julian, and Bubbles stayed true to their personalities while traveling in Europe, they put up with way more crap than they would have ever tolerated back home. Mr. Lahey had always been a great antagonist to “the boys,” because there was so much give and take in those battles. Lahey would lose as often as he would win. In this “Out of the Park” travel spin-off, however, the antagonist is a Swearnet representative with the most punchable face in television who never gets his comeuppance. He mocks the boys right up to the end and even hints that there could be more seasons of this kind of suffering.
Oh, Lord… I really hope this was a one-off experiment. I liked that the boys’ trip was hardly glamorous, though. I was afraid this was going to feel like nothing more than an excuse for them to have fun in Europe. That wasn’t the case at all. Even the celebrities they met were, for the most part, intentional assholes. And the point of the trip quickly became them needing to perform ridiculous tasks to earn enough money to eat. But the Swearnet guy almost always refused to give them their money based on technicalities like, “There were too many people in your photo.” After a while, I just got tired of watching the boys get beaten down and grow increasingly hungry. Consider this a lesson learned and don’t leave the park next time.
After the show’s first season, I was worried that Master of None would try to follow in the footsteps of Louie and morph into an all-out drama. Season 2 definitely feels more serious and experimental. I mean, the first episode is strictly black-and-white, and there’s even an episode that doesn’t feature Aziz Ansari’s character, Dev, at all. Ansari is the best thing about the show, though. The episode without him got so boring that I started skipping ahead. I know comedians like Louis C.K. and Ansari want to be able to flex their directorial muscles, but I’m not one to hand out praise simply because something is different. The episodes of Master of None that break from the mold are certainly the weaker ones.
A lot of Season 2 felt like a repeat of Season 1, anyway, with Dev falling in love with a woman and then hitting a major impasse in their relationship. Only now the woman he’s chasing is already engaged to someone else, so it’s harder to side with Dev on this one. And, like Season 1, so much of the acting is just… bad. I understand those are Ansari’s real parents, but knowing that just makes his mom’s wooden acting all the more distracting. Eric Wareheim as Arnold is also surprisingly off-putting. It’s weird, because Wareheim was so charming in his many Tim & Eric skits, but he just doesn’t fit in here. It’s like Ansari is the only actor who’s at all comfortable on the show. At this point, I honestly can’t tell if that’s some intentionally artsy move.
There was a good story somewhere in here, but Netflix really dropped the ball this time. Iron Fist is pretty disappointing. And I’m not even holding the Netflix/Marvel shows to very high standards, anymore. They’ve all tended to start out great and then turn into a slog near the halfway point. Iron Fist, however, is consistently bland. Our hero, Danny, has so little personality, and it was never very clear who the villain was supposed to be. Sure, Danny spends plenty of time chasing after “The Hand,” but there’s really no single, formidable opponent. You don’t get to see Danny struggle and lose in the same ways that Daredevil and Luke Cage suffered (and ultimately grew).
I liked the potential of Danny Rand as a naive businessman, sort of like a mix between Iron Man and Spider-Man. But he’s really the worst thing about his own show. The supporting characters were much better, particularly the Meachum family. Ward Meachum wavered so much between being a good guy and a bad guy but in a believable way. It’s a shame, then, that the story didn’t revolve more around them. Instead, we get hours of Danny whining about Ye Olde Hand. At least the Hand’s mysticism fits better here than it did in Daredevil Season 2, but the Hand as a whole just comes across as an even sillier organization now. Seriously, this doesn’t give me much hope for The Defenders, but maybe an ensemble is what will really boost Danny to his true potential.