Saturday, August 10, 2013

Camp: Heat Wave Review

"Camp" probably might not be worth watching if it weren't airing in the programming void of the Summer time and didn't so perfectly capture the time of the season.

Carrie Raisler's review at the AV Club (famously known around the internet as the frenemy of introduced a new compound word into my lexicon when she described the show as "low-stakes." In a way, this is a profoundly appropriate description of "Camp": The show offers an escapist appeal, the plots (examples include a campwide game of capture the flag and a social intercamp mixer) are largely inconsequential, and the show clearly has little interest in developing most of its characters.

With the exception of Mac (the main protagonist played by Rachel Griffiths), Kip, and Marina, the characters can easily be sorted out into stock stereotypes from the pilot on and every subsequent episode only serves to confirm those initial classifications. A rough list of the minor and major characters whose hope for expanding beyond one dimension has died by the fifth episode: Cole is rugged and spontaneous, Sarah is self-aware that she's hot and therefore kind of stuck-up (although that's likely not what the writers intended), Steve is a cartoonishly irresponsible father,  Buzz is a sex-starved teenager, Roger is smug (in the show's defense, Roger's flatness is heavily lampshaded), Greg is a sensitive slimeball who attracts the ladies, and Cheryl is a doppelganger for the hornier side of Mac.

Slightly above this group of seven is Asian with high self-esteem (TVTropes, can you do something about that?) Grace and crazy, dark Chloe. They both are a little caricatured but each has the potential to surprise and they are heavily entertaining as side characters.

At the bottom of the character development ladder are two characters that exist solely as different options of arm candy for Sarah: Safe choice Robbie and the road less traveled Miguel Santos. Despite the show's forgettable attempt to give him a backstory with an irresponsible mother, Robbie has nothing to define him. I might be inclined to give the show credit for using the Santos character ironically-- he's a famous novelist and a caricature of a Don Juan character in a romance novel -- but there's no indication that much foresight was given to him. As I previously stated, Sarah is far less interesting than she's intended to be, so a love triangle centered entirely around her falls flat.

That being said, "Camp" does a couple things terrifically. Aside from the Sarah-Boring Guy 1-Boring Guy 2 love triangle, nearly every other romantic relationship works and that's more than I can say about most shows on TV. We're living in the age of shipping: shows like "New Girl", "Bent", "How I Met Your Mother", "Parks and Recreation" (at times)  and "Castle" feel obligated to throw their characters at each other romantically even when it doesn't make sense. "Camp" feels kind of like a soap opera with its inevitability of romantic entanglements, but it earns points over all those other shows because many of these romances make sense: 1) Mac needs to feel wanted in middle age so she goes for Roger; 2) Cole wants Mac because she's a source of stability to her and the two have a great familiarity; 3) Buzz is quite simply a 16-year old kid in summer camp; 4) Marina has rarely felt special before Greg made her feel that way; 5) Kip sees himself as an outsider and Marina understands him; and 6) Chloe sees someone like-minded in Kip and her need for romantic attachment is strong because she's a little off.  It also helps that sleepaway summer camps are generally regarded as a time where kids become more adventurous with the opposite sex, lending some plausibility to the  "Love Boat" vibe the show is going for.

The other thing the show does well is create an escapist tone. The ironic thing is that the show is about a family camp and it has an ill-defined sense of what that is. Off the top of my head:
1) Why are Mac's three friends there for an entire summer?
2) Is Grace seemingly the only teenage camper and if so, why would she choose to go to a camp where most of her peer group is working there?
3) Why are some counselors like Robbie and Sarah doing jobs that appear to take up much of their time while other counselors pretty much just play summer camp games and party?
4) If Grace is such a high achiever, why is she spending one of her prized summers before college as a season-long camper (which can't look good on a college application) when she could easily just work a couple hours a day like Marina and Kip.
5) Roger doesn't appear to be a man who likes kids, so why does he run a family camp as opposed to a resort for adults? Is it even a family camp?

Still, without knowing what a family camp is, it's convincingly a place we want to be. It's easy and breezy and that's enough to tune into a nine-episode run.

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