TL; DR(eview) - Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later serves as the follow-up teased at the close of the original film...sort of. In reality, it has more ties to the previous prequel series First Day of Camp and suffers from cast limitations and availability but it still manages to come across irreverent and with a knowing wink to fans of the franchise.
When Netflix announced a Wet Hot American Summer series a few years back, “Ten Years Later” is probably what everyone expected. Nearly fifteen years after the original film, the cast could reunite as shown at the end of the movie. Instead, the team chose to produce “The First Day of Camp” instead, having all of the actors who were clearly fifteen years older playing slightly younger versions of themselves. It was a clever way of subverting expectations on the cult classic, much in the same way the film itself subverted summer camp cliches.
Now, with all of the groundwork laid, “Ten Years Later” brings many of the campers back together to show us how much (or little) they’ve changed. But it, perhaps expectedly given the format, really seems more like a sequel to the “First Day of Camp” series than the original movie that spawned it. Once again, summer camp tropes take a bit of a back seat here to an extension of the “First Day of Camp” sub-plot involving President Reagan (Michael Showalter) trying to destroy the camp, this time enlisting Michael Ian Black’s George H.W. Bush for the assist.
“Ten Years Later” also seems to suffer from the same kind of cast scheduling issues that plagued the Netflix season of Arrested Development. For the most part, this has been written into the comedy with meta jokes like characters saying they’ll see each other again “in episode four” or with a character taking a multi-episode nap in the bunks. There’s also an amusing work around for why Bradley Cooper doesn’t appear in this season but Elizabeth Banks suffers from her entire subplot happening in isolation and perhaps was only reunited with the cast for the recreation of the “ten years later” scene from the movie.
Perhaps to account for these missing performers, the cast is filled out with additional characters from the prequel series, some of whom are even resurrected in order to explain their return. Mark Feuerstein and Sarah Burns had possibly the greatest potential with their debut here as they are positioned as a couple of campers who have always been a part of the gang, even being digitally inserted into a couple scenes from the movie as if they’d been around all along. But unfortunately they wind up existing mostly within their own subplot and feel like they were really only brought in so original camper J.J. (Zak Orth) had something to do while the rest of the original campers were off in their other isolated storylines.
If you were a fan of the the previous iterations, there’s probably still a lot for you to love here. But for me, I found myself laughing the most at some of the overtly referential humor (David Hyde Pierce’s) return as Henry in particular worked really well for me). Meanwhile, characters introduced in the “First Day of Summer” series like Donna and Yaron (Lake Bell and David Wain) that fell flat for me in that series sort of soured me to characters like Ken Marino’s Victor, simply through association in this series. But somebody else probably loved seeing them again so your comedic mileage will vary.
As someone without an overwhelming affinity for Wet Hot American Summer or its prequel series, “Ten Years Later” fell pretty much in line with what I expected. It didn’t suddenly give me a newfound love for the Camp Firewood crew, but it still delivered enough in the way of laughs that I never felt like I was wasting my time watching.