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Pilot Review: NBC's 'Camp' Is A Fun Way To Spend An Hour On Wednesday Nights

Christopher Monigle Christopher Monigle
July 11th, 2013 9:20am EDT

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I'm flipping through the Xfinity guide last night and see NBC's Camp scheduled for 10pm EST on Wednesday. Immediately, I'm annoyed. Why couldn't NBC run a half-hour series at the 10pm spot? I'm selfish, though. Anyway, NBC spins Camp as a comedy-drama, but Camp's essentially a comedy with heartfelt moments. It's like a mid-90s summer film such as Camp Nowhere or Bushwhacked; or perhaps it's like the 1980s classic, Meatballs, which stars Bill Murray.

Camp does not star Bill Murray, but Rachel Griffiths stars as the owner of Little Otter Family Camp. Her character's name is Mack. Her marriage recently ended. The rich folk across the lake want to buy out Little Otter for purposes of expansion. Mack's an enthusiastic counselor, a loving mother, but she's lost after her marriage. The camp's falling apart around her. Speakers are busted and can't be used for the talent show. Her son's rapidly maturing, preferring to bunk with his peers rather than her as he quests to get to third base or beyond with a girl before summer's end. Negotiating sessions with the owner of Richfield, which is the rich camp across the lake, ends in hate sex. Mack's a mess, but she's an entertaining kind of mess. Camp's tone is light and fun. The darkest moments of the "Pilot" are optimistic, if that makes sense.

The main teenage male character, a youth who does not want to be at the camp as a counselor until a pretty girl hangs out with him, punches out one of the rich youths from across the lake. The rich youth made a rather obscene comment about his new lady friend and the Popsicle in her mouth. Mack brought the main teenage male character into her office wherein she stressed the importance of protecting him from harm, but this guy explains that if he didn't punch out the dude he'd set the course for the rest of his life. Somewhere in there the audience learns that he survived lymphoma. I don't remember any character's name besides Mack. I don't take notes for review, because I'm a wild dude. The main teenage male character's bit of back story is inspirational in the context of the scene. He's overcome cancer, and now he's overcoming fears, timidity. He's found courage (and that coincides with his new lady friend, another character whose name I forget).

Summer's an optimistic season. People are happy in the summer. The sun shines every day. The days are warm. Summer camp offers a respite from the daily grind of living. Camp's characters are happy, optimistic, bright-eyed and free. The counselors get together to steal speakers from Richfield for Mack's sake. Mack's teenage's son's offensive use of 'faggy' leads to self-awareness and ownership of his mistake. The kid's seemingly not motivated by the thought of hooking up with the offended girl but is instead motivated by the thought of thinking decently. The outcast girl isn't deeply wounded by rejection from a group of girls. She just shrugs and finds other people.

Camp's a fun way to spend a hour on Wednesday nights. The storytelling's breezy and light like a good day at the beach. One can relax during the show and not think deeply about character motivation or the meaning of the story. The writing's witty. The pacing's great. Scenes move. There's never stagnation. The beats are short and effective. I liked the more bizarre parts of the "Pilot," such as the attractive counselor getting hit in the head while swimming by her favorite author/director/screenwriter just as she's hooked up with the guy who makes puppy faces at her whenever she walks into a room. The war between the camps has been seen before in other shows with camp. Camp episodes, or series, do two things. One depicts a dictatorship, as in "Kamp Krusty" or Heavyweights, while others show the possibilities and promise of summer camp.

The setting is lovely to look at--Australia's a beautiful country. Camp shot in Australia because it's cheaper to film in other countries. The actors and actresses are Australian. The American accents are decent. Everyone involved looks like they're having a marvelous time on set. The show is fun. Characters hang out under the stars, smoking and drinking. Nothing is impossible to overcome at Little Otter Family Camp, and that's nice to see once in awhile.

Other Thoughts:

-My favorite summer camp series aired over a decade ago on the Disney channel. Does anyone else remember Bug Juice? I never attended overnight summer camp as a child. My camps were at the local playgrounds for most of the day. Pre-teen Chris lived vicariously through the adventures of the Bug Juice campers. I’d watch the series with my older sister late at night. Disney used to re-run episodes from 2am-4am. The Bug Juice campers worked together on activities and on friendships with each other. I liked the community atmosphere of the campers.

NBC’s Camp isn’t comparable to Bug Juice. Camp’s a scripted comedy, and Bug Juice was reality television. Camp’s similar to Adventureland.

-Next week’s episode promises capture the flag fun. I haven’t seen capture the flag in mainstream television for years, maybe not since Bug Juice or Wild n’ Crazy Kids. Any series that follows its “Pilot” with a game of Capture the Flag deserves another viewing.

Photo Credits: NBC