Camp Series Premiere Review: Welcome to Little Otter, Where Everything's Familiar, But Fine

Camp S01E01: "Pilot"

I never actually went to summer camp (I'm not sure local basketball camps count); everything I know about the camp experience, I learned from popular culture. While I'm not particularly fond of the outdoors, there's no denying the charm of camp-centric movies like Meatballs or Heavyweights or TV shows like Salute Your Shorts and Bug Juice. I say this both to let you guys know that I'm in no way a CAMP EXPERT, but also because the first episode of NBC's new scripted summer series felt like the writers watched a lot of those movies and TV shows immediately before penning the pilot script. Despite some decent performances, the episode explored very familiar territory.

Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under and Brothers & Sisters) is Mackenzie Greenfield, the director of Little Otter Family Camp. Recently divorced and still trying to figure out how to run the financially under-water camp and keep her life together, Mac spends her free time swarming her horny teenage son Buzz and squabbling with her ex-husband. Meanwhile, the older counselors of Little Otter spend their nights drinking and smoking and banging, and the camp's younger residents try to find love or avoid the mocking laughter of the "cool kids." There are skirmishes over room assignments, breakfast role call, weekend talent shows, and so on and so forth. It's camp


We know that scripted shows about camp can work. ABC Family's little-watched Huge did a wonderful job of exploring the "fat camp" experience a few years back. However, while that show had the fat camp conceit as its hook, Camp didn't try too hard to reinvent the formula, especially in the pilot episode. The opening moments introduced us to a pair of People Who Don't Want to Be At Camp But Will Ultimately Enjoy It in Marina and Kip, and then ran with a silly gag involving Kip's nose ring and a fish hook. Unfortunately, that's the type of humor this first episode had to offer. Mac's son Buzz wants to get laid, so there were jokes about him buying condoms or making a fool of himself in front of the ladies. Mac's out of her element with rival camp owner Roger, and that was also supposed to be funny. Frankly, the show doesn't really work as a comedy. 

The dramatic elements, though? A little better. Still familiar, but better. Griffiths probably took this role so that she could work at home in Australia, but she gives Camp a nice adult center that, especially in the pilot, helps move the show away from the teen-sex-romp elements. If there's any innovation here, it's that the adult characters aren't complete stereotypes, the sort of villainous buzzkills who tend to dominate shows like this. It's important to note that they didn't work as well in the pilot as they do in later episodes (I've seen three total), but the scenes with Mac and the other adults at the camp are surprisingly fun and simple in their approach. The various love stories between the likes of Robbie and Sarah and Kip and Marina were established well enough in the premiere, and it was easy to understand who these people are and what they want. Sure, literally none of it was new, or even especially good, but it was serviceable.


You'll notice that I keep saying things like "especially in this episode" or whatnot, and that's because the pilot was definitely the worst of the three episodes sent out to critics. As I mentioned in my preview of the show, Camp seemed much more interested in the lame, cliche comedy bits in its series premiere. Once Episodes 3 and 4 roll around (Episode 2 wasn't included in the press mailing), the show starts to focus more on the relationships between the characters and how their lives outside of camp impacts their experience at Little Otter. There are a few out-of-nowhere reveals to come post-pilot, but they add texture to characters that are pretty flimsy at the start. So if you can't make it through this one, I promise that, at least in two weeks, Camp will be better. 

But even now, it's fine. I hate to give that sort of shrugging evaluation of a summer show because that's the exact kind of thing NBC is going for. There's no way this series would air at any time other than the summer, and I'm sure NBC isn't expecting it to do big business. There's only so much that can happen on a straightforward show about summer camp. And while this one may not be the absolute best version of that story, it sure as heck isn't anywhere close to a full-body case of poison ivy. So if you're like me and never went to summer camp, or if you just want to relive the halcyon days of Capture the Flag and summer love, Camp might just do the trick.



MESS HALL LEFTOVERS

–  One thing Camp has going for it is that the show looks pretty good. The Australian countryside does a nice job of filling in for what I *think* is supposed to be a location in the Midwest or on the East Coast. 

– The runner in the pilot about Buzz's weird use of "faggy" and "retard?" Never heard from again. That felt pretty out-of-place for me. 


What'd you think of the series premiere? Will you be back for Episode 2? 

Comments (29)
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What I don't get is why NBC is hiring an almost all Australian cast and filming in Australia when I'm sure that we have a huge talent pool of unemployed actors in the US?
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Excuse me mentioning it: this show is so white. We have an elder african-american, a teen asian american and one almost twenty-something hispanic. The rest: is white. Ok, Australian, too - but white.
First encounter.

Second: I really enjoy this show though it might paint a picture on american culture that is idealistic or even harmless, religiously harmless. PG14, speak for yourself. However, it's a 10pm show. Ah, it's NBC, the family channel. Honestly: what part of family is watching at that time?

Still: I enjoy the show - like a dream of missed opportunities where life was easy. But can this alone justify the existence of a tale?
It might but it's so much b/w that all the intrigues, story lines ad twists are hidden behind the big, hue curtain of sedation.

On the notch, 4 Eps into the season and let's see what's coming pout of - oh, wait, it's an NBC show...


read me next week - maybe
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I really like this summer show because that's what I want to watch during summer :)
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Really tried to get through this because I like Rachel Griffiths but after about twenty minutes of humourless cliches I couldn't take any more.
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I agree that there was too much sex, as if the authors do not know what else to write about. There are other shows I might watch for sex but not this one. For this show I want some of the many other things in life.

Something else that has not gotten mentioned much is the immaturity. There is too much of that. I sure do not like that the boy threw the first punch just because the other boys were being jerks. I would prefer to see the jerks dealt with in a mature manner by the parents and counselors.

I enjoy and appreciate shows like Parenthood that deal with real life in realistic and relatively healthy ways. This show is not like that.
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Sorry.. thought I would like it but do not find it appropriate television for the purpose of language used. I would have thought that it was appropriate for most ages, not limited to 14& up. What is television coming to these days? They say and do anything anymore, not making it suitable for younger ages. Kids are going hear things all the time but should not have to be turned away from basic channels due to the ratings, such as Sexual content and language that is not used daily in everyday life! Just my opinion!
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I stayed with this 'till the end in the misguided hope that either Jason or the creature from ANY lagoon would deal with this. Unfortunately though, like it's in-show sewer pipes, this spewed poop and no golden shower.
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I probably agree but this comment is too vague for me to be sure what you mean.
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Start doing word puzzles before it's too late.
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That's another vague comment.
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I really liked this one. Everything was so much more subdued and subtle than I thought it would be. I liked that the various age groups had their own things going on and even when they mixed(like the speaker raid) they behaved in a real way and sort of ignored each other. Just kind of a relaxing and feel-good show that didn't make me feel stupid for enjoying it(except maybe the jock stereotypes). I just hope they don't go overboard on the Sex and the City stuff between the adults and that they flesh out the older counselors more.

I thought the comedic parts were well done and enjoyed the style they used. The more slapstick stuff like the nose-ring hook and condom scene were played kind of straight, and I thought the slow-mo punch scene was pretty funny too.
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The only reason I stuck with it is because of the actor that used to play Mr Darling in Spirited - he's the ultimate sleaze with his looks. I'll give it two more watches since you said it picks up, then decide if I'll stick with it as filler, depending on how many other shows I'm watching.
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It wasn't terrible but it's not the kind of show I want to watch any more of either.
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It was nice to see Rachel Griffiths again.

I turned off the tv after 10 minutes. I'm proud of myself that I lasted so long :)
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I couldn't get through the whole pilot, this is a skip for me :(
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That was... okay... I think. I'm not sure what to make of it. It wasn't horrible or off-putting or completely boring. But there wasn't even one moment that I can remember particularly liking. Some things were said... some things happened... some people were mad, some people were horny, some kids were doing camp things. Seems like the kind of shallow and hollow show aired in summer before cable networks started showing actually good shows during the summer. I have no clue at the moment if I'll continue to watch.
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I find the "make money on the internet" spam comments more entertaining than the 30 minutes of this pilot I managed to sit through.
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What's up with the Kevin Bacon impersonator?
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I didn't want to like this but you know what, I actually did... more than I should've... it's like NBC took Beaver Falls and subtly remade it for the US and cleaned it up just a tad and made it a family camp (I didn't know there was such a thing?). even the name sounds familiar (Beaver Falls, Little Otter..). not sure if it'll survive past season 1 but I'll keep watching it.

I found it funny that when Robbie talked about the talent show he said "we're Americans, we have talent" (or something along those lines) but yet atleast 4 of the main cast is Australian and it's filmed in New South Wales, Australia.
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Beaver fall was a good show i was surprised i enjoyed but you right it does remind me of beaver falls.
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what are you talking about ?
Buzz asked Kip and Marina about what he said and they said go apologize and he went and apologized by the end of the episode so it wasn't out of place
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Yeah, at the end of the episode he said that he wasn't going to say them anymore so I think that storyline was pretty concluded.
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