One of the biggest differences between British and American television comedy is that the former tends to feature characters that are less sympathetic.

British comedy tradition allows for characters to behave more like people really do - i.e. awfully - whereas American comedy focuses on characters that are aspirational. Those that possess that most dreaded enemy of humour: likeability.

Jennifer Garner was confronted by this curious difference when she first considered playing the leading role in a new American adaptation of the British comedy series Camping.

"When I saw the British version, I did not see why she was the way she was," Garner tells TimeOut. "I did not like the character, although I thought the performance [by Getting On's Vicki Pepperdine] was brilliant. But I thought: I can't play this, she's too unrelenting, she's too shrill, she's too ... just nasty."


Garner says she subsequently warmed to the American interpretation of her character, a control-freak named Kathryn, who remains pretty severe but who has some of her harsher edges smoothed out, or at the very least, explained.

David Tennant stars in Camping, alongside Jennifer Garner.
David Tennant stars in Camping, alongside Jennifer Garner.

"The way that Jenni and Lena wrote her, she unfolds just a little dollop of why she is the way she is over time," continues Garner. "And now to me she's the hero of her own story. If you think of living with chronic pain and people dismissing you, and then being misdiagnosed and seeing doctor after doctor and your friends getting annoyed. She uses what's happened to her, physically, as a battering ram, it's the first thing she wants to talk about, but also: she's earned that. She's trying so hard, all misguided."

"Jenni and Lena" are Jenni Konner and Lena Dunham, the principal creative voices behind the zeitgeist-grabbing hit Girls, in which Dunham also starred.

Their first collaboration since Girls ended its acclaimed six-season run last year, Camping centres around a weekend wilderness trip that Kathryn has organised to celebrate the 45th birthday of her husband, Walt, played to subtle comic perfection by former Doctor Who David Tennant.

Various other couples have been invited, and despite (or rather, because of) Kathryn's obsessive need to plan a super-fun weekend for everybody, tensions soon arise.

Konner tells TimeOut that unlike Girls, Camping isn't necessarily about addressing contemporary issues.

"This isn't especially political, but we talk a lot about infidelity and there's some class stuff," Konner says. "But you know, we're never ever trying to be political, it's literally just what makes us laugh. And it's hard in this climate not to try to find ways to make yourself laugh."

Garner says she was eager to collaborate with Konner and Dunham.


"When this came my way I was completely shocked because I never imagined Jenni Konner and Lena Dunham handing me something," says Garner. "I never imagined getting to say their words. Girls felt like such a look back to me, to a time in my life ... it wasn't something that I thought I could just insert my Mom-self into, so I was so blissfully surprised by the whole thing."

"I'm so lucky I have a job where I can dive back in," says Jennifer Garner. Photo / supplied

Garner says it was her "Mom-self" that has caused her relative absence from screens over the past couple of years, with Camping and the 2018 movies Love, Simon and Peppermint leading to talk that she's making something of a comeback.

"The way something is perceived is so different to what's actually happening at home. Where you think: 'My kids could use me around. I'm just going to focus on home for a couple of years.' And then suddenly you're like, 'everything's a little more stable, and actually I'm going stir crazy.' I'm so lucky I have a job where I can dive back in."

At first glance, Kathryn may seem like something of a departure for Garner.

"I actually have done things like this but maybe just no one saw it. Maybe I want more people to see this than saw Invention of Lying or Butter or little movies that had this kind of style of humour."

Although Garner made her name starring in the spy drama Alias in the early 2000s, she says returning to a TV series schedule took some getting used to.

"I forgot that about TV - how many pages you have. On a movie, by the time you're shooting it, even if you have a huge day, you've worked on that scene for months so you just know it. With TV, you've often just got the script a few days ago, and then you have nine pages of straight monologues. I'm old-fashioned, I worked on my lines with my daughters. When Violet [her eldest] visited the set, she was quoting the script."

Who: Jennifer Garner
What: Camping
When: Thursdays, 8.30pm
Where: Sky SoHo2