'Camp' TV Review: Dramedy In Need Of Originality
Camp, NBC's new summer dramedy, opened with a pilot full of character exposition that struggled to connect the exaggerated comedy and stereotypical drama with the subtle relationships being set up between the characters.
Nothing about Camp is particularly original. The characters are all defined by tropes we've seen countless times before. There's Mack (Rachel Griffiths), the bitter divorcée whose husband left her for a younger woman and now has to run Little Otter Family Camp all on her own. Meanwhile, her son, Buzz (Charles Grounds), is a socially clueless teenage boy whose goal for the summer is to finally have sex. He becomes friends with Kip (Thom Green), the too-cool-for-school (or in this case, camp) counselor who is hiding a secret battle with leukemia. Other characters include a handsome, but self-centered rival who runs a more resort-like camp on the other side of the lake, and a pretty girl outsider who has been labeled a slut by her peers after topless photos of her were passed around school. And the overly sappy and expository dialog does not help the mundane nature of the characters. That said, I wouldn't count Camp out just yet.
Now, I realize my description of the characters doesn't make the show sound all that appealing, but bare with me. If you can get past the whole "I could have written this" vibe, Camp is worth watching for Rachel Griffiths alone. Griffiths, last seen on television as Sarah Walker in the ABC drama Brothers & Sisters (2006-2011), plays a somewhat similar role in Camp — both Sarah and Mack are independent businesswomen who tend to put themselves in goofy, messy situations — and that may not be such a bad thing. While Brothers & Sisters was very much an ensemble show, Camp is leaning more towards focusing on Mack and how she runs the camp (and her life) as opposed to the teenagers. Make no mistake, Griffiths is not playing "the mother" who doles out sage advice and makes embarrassing references to the time her son was a baby. Mack is very much front and center, and her difficulty reclaiming her life after being betrayed by her husband is the most intriguing aspect of the show.
Side note — who else is rooting for Mack to ditch Roger (Rodger Corser) and go for the hot, young counselor Cole (Nickolai Nickolaeff)? That, my friends, would make for some entertaining television.
The pilot was racier than expected, with three love scenes and underage drug use that was all handled with a kind of frankness rarely seen on network one-hour dramas (translation — nobody died or got pregnant…at least, not yet.). Buzz, Kip and Marina (Lily Sullivan) all share a joint one night while lying back and looking at the stars…and the world doesn't end! The joint didn't cause trouble, and was simply presented as something teenagers might view as a right of passage — not something that causes teens to completely ruin their lives. I admit that I am not 100% accurate in this statement — the show does feature Sara (Dena Kaplan), a swimmer whose scholarship to Stanford got revoked when she drove her car into a flagpole while under the influence. Still, Sarah didn't kill anybody, and her actions have happened off camera, making them a much smaller part of the show.
Camp also stands out due to its more diverse cast — not only racially, but also in terms of body type. Yes, all the actors are beautiful and thin, but as a whole they don't look like a group you'd expect to see in a more mainstream show, especially the younger cast members. Jut one look and you'll see this isn't Gossip Girl. Thank heavens.
I'm definitely sticking around for Camp's second episode. Are you?
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