Wet Hot American Summer is one of the jewels in the Netflix crown.
We may not have summer camp culture here in little ol' NZ, but thanks to countless American films, sitcom episodes and raunchy screwball comedies on the topic we're all fairly familiar with how it works.
During the summer parents across America ship their sprogs off out of the house for anything from two to eight weeks. After enjoying some rest and blessed peace and quiet they are then fully recharged and can begin getting up to all sorts of X-rated hi-jinks that wouldn't otherwise be afforded to them because of the damn kids always hanging around getting all up in their grills.
I may be projecting here ...
Anyway, while this is all going on the kids are off sitting in a log cabin in the forest somewhere having crushes and first kisses and sneaking out at night to paddle across the lake to prank their stuck-up rivals in the campground opposite. Madcap laughter ensues.
The genre's heyday was the late 80s/early 90s but even then the tropes were all firmly established, recognised and widely acknowledged. So in 2001 when the spoof Wet Hot American Summer was released in theatres it was resoundingly booed. The world just didn't need a parody of a highly specific genre that was already doing an excellent job of parodying itself.
Looking back now, the unusual thing about the film is the sheer number of soon-to-be-superstars in its cast. We're talking people like Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks and Paul Rudd, as well as a bunch of faces that are instantly familiar to comedy fans, like Ken Marino and Molly Shannon.
Since its ignored release the film has slowly gained momentum alongside its stars and now, after all these years, it is regarded as a bit of a cult comedy classic.
Despite being a big fan of both Poehler and Rudd, and the constant and incessant recommendations from a friend with fairly decent filmic taste, I never got around to watching the flick.
This is a procrastination I instantly regretted after starting to watch Netflix's exclusive new series Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. This eight-episode series, which is available for streaming in its entirety from today, is one of the jewels in the crown of Netflix's new arrivals and is a direct prequel to the events of the film.
Astoundingly all of the top name stars have reprised their roles as teenagers and returned to Camp Firewood. That's the first bit of absurdism the show throws at you - having actors in their 40s playing horny 16-year-olds. As they're acting alongside more age-appropriate actors it's even more visually jarring.
And yes, that's the joke. Especially as they were all too old for the roles the first time around.
It's played up very well, with many winking references to their looks and one particularly inspired visual LOL when a teen girl blossoms into a woman during episode two.
The series is set over the course of one day and the show packs a lot in. It really makes the most of its famous ensemble cast, with various story threads playing out across each episode. These pretty much follow a genre checklist that include the classic first to lose their virginity bet, a theatre group's musical production, an outsider gaining acceptance into the group and the dumping of nuclear waste in the backwoods of the camp.
If that sounds like a lot to keep track of, well, it is. But thanks to all the famous faces it's easy to know who's doing what and what's going on. Couple that with the show's brisk, sketch-show pace and you have a solidly entertaining half hour that embraces weirdness, wordplay and the occasional gross-out gag.
And while it certainly works well enough as a stand-alone comedy it would obviously be so much better having first seen the movie. There's clearly a huge amount of callbacks, fan service and film references going on that are flying right over my head.
This is all the good stuff that you definitely want in a prequel when you're already a fan. But if you're not, well, it's a little like listening to a joke's punchline without first knowing the set-up. If you don't know it's a chicken crossing the road then its reason for doing so is not amusing in the slightest.
Fortunately Netflix has it covered and the film is available to stream. This is why I stopped watching after episode two. This weekend, in the middle of our wet, cold New Zealand winter I'm going to escape to the end of the wet, hot American summer so I can more fully enjoy the story of how it all began.