WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: FIRST DAY OF CAMP

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Parody films are hard to do well, and often fall completely flat. Even well done parody films are rarely a commercial success, as was the case with WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER (2001). The only reason films like these succeed is if they make that tricky transition over into cult film territory, which was helped in this case by the completely stacked cast (seriously it’s ridic) and absurdist humour. WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER is one of my favourite parody films (along with Black Dynamite), so imagine my sheer surprise and utter joy when I learned that Netflix (blessed be) had signed almost the entire original cast on for a prequel series.

Once again written by David Wain and Michael Showalter, WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: First Day at Camp (2015) premiered on July 31st, with the entire eight episodes released simultaneously on Netflix. All eight episodes tell the extremely convoluted and absurd story of the first day of camp at Camp Firewood.

Wain and Showalter managed to wrangle almost the entire original cast back together for the series, with Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Janeane Garofalo, Christopher Meloni, Molly Shannon, David Hyde Pierce, Marguerite Moreau, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio and H. Jon Benjamin returning. They are joined by a stellar list of guest stars, with Jon Hamm, Jason Schwartzman, Chris Pine, Lake Bell, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera among it.

From the very beginning of the first episode, the show is absurd. Sixteen year old camp counsellors (two months younger than they originally portrayed) are all played by ~40 year old actors and actresses, which results in a couple of great age-related jokes. The plot (barely) revolves around the main characters from the movie, and manages to introduce terrifyingly in-depth background stories for most of the characters, including my favourites – the talking can of vegetables and Vietnam Veteran Gene. Expect plenty of era relevant in-jokes (it is set in the 80’s after all) and subtle references to other films and media from that era.

Overall I thought it was fucking hilarious, and possibly one of my favourite TV series of all time. There are layers upon layers of jokes in almost every scene, and Jon Hamm should probably only do comedy from now on. Wain and Showalter have achieved something with WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: First Day at Camp that I didn’t even know was possible – they made a prequel series to a parody that may actually surpass the film itself.

4.5/5

Words by Sam Montgomery

BOJACK HORSEMAN: SEASON TWO

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Bojack Horseman is a really good show, and like most series on Netflix, is pretty fun to just binge-watch. Bojack’s misadventures make for really solid comedy and the show is filled with heaps of background jokes, characters and one-liners that make it worth a rewatch.

The second season is a strong continuation of the first, with Bojack’s story picking up pretty much right where season one left off. This season tended to follow its story arc tighter than the first season, but still found time for little deviations here and there which opened up opportunities for some strong side-plots and more development of characters that previously didn’t get much time.

Season two follows Bojack as he stars in a movie about his childhood sports hero, ‘Secretariat.’ He’s also found relevance again following the success of his new biography, so things look brighter than they did at the end of the first season. He finds a new romance in Wanda, a TV exec just woken up out of a thirty-year long coma, and participates in a J.D. Salinger-created game show against Daniel Radcliffe for charity. Bojack’s housemate Todd continues to get caught in adventure after adventure – one episode in particular has him rescuing a roided-up farm chicken from the chopping block.

Alongside the comedy, the show spends a lot of time exploring the emotions and motivations of its characters, and it’s easy to relate to them despite the general absurdity of the plots and characters’ tendencies to be self-destructive. Towards the season’s end the main characters are sent off into their own depressive tailspins, most of them escaping their responsibilities for extended periods of time. Todd deals with a sense of purposelessness by getting wrapped up in a cult. Bojack disappears from LA for two months to grapple with his complete lack of self-esteem. Diane, terrified by the idea that she might have stopped growing as a person, spends a lot of time in a sort of stasis – hanging around Bojack’s house, drinking and sleeping. It’s hard not to root for all of them as they try their best to be happy. The various threads get resolved at the end of the season and although it’s uplifting, some of the resolutions felt rushed.

Horsin’ Around/10

Words by Skevos Karpathakis

NASHVILLE: SEASON ONE

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This isn’t a Netflix exclusive show, but it is one I discovered while aimlessly scrolling through the Netflix menu, waiting for something to jump out at me, trying to distract myself from any number of late night fears. I’m not sure what drew me to Nashville, but I’m grateful – this is fantastic television, engulfing and engaging enough to provide hours of mind numbing binge watching brain annihilation. Definitely viewing that cheerfully puts the existential dread on hold.

At the heart of Nashville’s first season lies the rivalry (but eventual, cautious friendship) between a younger and older female country music star.  Friday Night Lights leading lady Connie Britton plays the ageing icon, and Hayden Panetierre the feisty up-and-coming Taylor Swift-Miley Cyrus hybrid. On the sidelines are plenty of muscular men wearing cowboy hats, and an assortment of bright young guitar players and singers who have moved to the music city to seek fame and fortune. The only thing missing from Nashville’s talented cast of characters is racial diversity, a misstep made all the more unforgivable by the show’s Southern setting.

Nashville immediately handicaps itself by giving the impression of being niche. Everything –  from its geographic title, to its country music premise, to the fact that most of its central characters are women, at first works against it. Give the pilot episode a chance, though, and you’ll be hooked in by the ten minute mark. The myriad carefully contorted plots are Shakespearian and universal, melodramatic but fresh. The Southern accents are only mildly annoying, the twangy music is actually pretty catchy, and it turns out that Hayden Panetierre is a far better actress than Heroes ever allowed her to be.

5/5

Words by Kat Gillespie

GRACE AND FRANKIE: SEASON ONE

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Over this winter break just past, in times of trouble (when my mood was low and Pelican a week over deadline), I turned to Grace and Frankie. An earnest and funny show about the complexity of family, set on the gorgeous California coastline. With two fabulous Women of A Certain Age cast in the lead roles, what’s not to love?

A lot, apparently. My persistence with Grace and Frankie came much to chagrin of my friends and family, who balked at the very sight of Grace Hanson, the waspy retired cosmetics entrepreneur played by Jane Fonda, and Frankie Bergstein, hippie dippie art teacher to ex-cons played by Lily Tomlin, on screen. Clichéd, boring, shit, they said.

And really, they’re probably right. The show begins when Grace and Frankie, odd couple and obvious rivals, are sat down by their divorce lawyer husbands and told in no uncertain terms that they’re leaving them – for each other. As the show goes on, we follow Grace and Frankie, both in their sixties, and their grown-up children try to define and navigate their new familial relationships. It’s very much a sitcom, and the humour is suitably middle of the road. But the way Grace and Frankie plays out navigations of intimacy feels very authentic – the two women co-habiting and learning to lean on each other, the career-driven daughter making bad romantic decisions. Most crucially, watching the ex-husbands and ex-wives learn to live both with and without each other is tender and beautiful television.

Yes, the huge Martha-Stewart-esque homes with gorgeous beach vistas are distinctly inauthentic. But surely that’s the point. This is Netflix. If I’ve tuned in, I’ve already let go of the material world. I’ve shut the curtains, and I’m not in Perth anymore. I’m hanging out with my fabulous divorcée friends, Grace and Frankie, and their company is every bit as warm as an episode of Friends, or a mug of hot tea. Embrace it.

4/5

Words by Lucy Ballantyne