NCB’s summer drama Camp may sound like a Ryan Murphy production, but it isn’t. It stars Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under) as Mackenzie “Mac” Granger, the owner of the Little Otter Family Camp, located somewhere in the Midwest. The specifics of the camp itself are vague: who attends the camp, where it’s located, why some of the counselors are parents of the kids there and apparently don’t have jobs during the rest of the year, are all left unexplained. The intricacies of everyone’s sex lives, though, take up a lot of the premiere episode. NBC ordered the show straight to series last year — a bold move meaning they would not first see a pilot. This is key when watching the premiere episode, because one imagines if they had, some tweaks might have been made. Hit the jump to see whether to pack your bags or cancel your reservations.
Camp starts out feeling largely like a big budget summer film, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you don’t mind incredibly broad-stroke characters in cliche situations saying obvious things, plus crotch shots. NBC wisely included three of the show’s first four episode for critic’s to view though, because the premiere never breaks out of this expected patter.
Here’s the gist: Mac’s camp is in dire financial straits, and is kind of misfit of the camp scene. There is, naturally, a ritzy camp across the lake that wants to buy her out (the cocky director of which she also has an on-and-off affair with). Mac is recently divorced, and her son Buzz works with her at the camp. Her lout of a husband also still shows up pretty regularly with his new Russian girlfriend, causing trouble and demanding Mac buy him out of his stake of the camp.
Mac has an unexplained coterie of other parents to lament to who are also counsellors, but don’t seem to actually do anything except drink gin and comment on her sex life. Nothing much camp-like seems to happen at the camp, aside from episode-centric events like a talent show and a brutal game of capture the flag. Other than that, campers seem to be free to do what they like and make-out with whomever they choose.
This brings us to the younger set, which includes Buzz as a counsellor-in-training. He and his friends are a group of misfits who bond in the pilot against the mean girls and jocks that populate their camp and the one across the lake. They’re into quirky and off-beat things, like documentary film and the Shins (more or less — is there ever a Quirky Guy on network TV now whose not just another Zach Braff clone from Garden State?). They also fall in with some of the younger counsellors, who have their own dramas and relationship issues to deal with. So it goes.
The first few episodes of Camp aren’t great, though the writing is decent in between the tropes. It doesn’t hurt either, of course, that the cast is full of good looking people who don’t wear a lot of clothes. In fact, once the series opens up and starts delving into the backgrounds of the main characters, particularly the younger counselors, the drama and interest begins to build. Kinda.
Camp is reminiscent of series like Everwood and to a lesser extent to The O.C., but it’s not as emotional as Everwood nor as clever as The O.C. (hey, those exchanges in the first two seasons between Ryan Atwood and Seth Cohen stand the test of time). Camp seems to want to be something more, but falls into things like inserting the Harlem Shake and Rhianna dance-numbers into scenes that don’t need them (as if there are any that would).
At best, Camp is palatable background noise, but the hopeful might say that once it settles in it might be something more. There’s no reason to cut it slack because it’s a network show, either. One of the creators of Camp, Liz Heldens, comes from one of the best dramas NBC has ever aired — Friday Night Lights. But Camp is a long way from that, or from any of the other watershed broadcast dramas. If you really want to watch something that subverts the story of summer camp misfits, watch Wet Hot American Summer. Ultimately, Camp is nothing to write home about.
Camp premieres July 10th at 10 p.m. on NBC, and shouldn’t be confused with the reality competition show Summer Camp, which is premiering on USA.