Does NBC's 'Camp' Capture the magic of...you know, camp?

The summer camp comedy looms large in the annals of the adolescent American psyche. You've got Meatballs, brought together by Bill Murray's perfect "it just doesn't matter!" speech. Heavyweights, a Top Three performance for Ben Stiller (plus rare on-screen appearance from The Heat director Paul Feig) and eminently quotable movie. Camp Nowhere. Salute Your Shorts. Wet Hot American Summer. To say nothing of camp as featured in slasher films, David Sedaris essays, on and on…

Basically CAMP as both place and concept has got its stinking paws all over our nostalgia centers, so NBC's new summer series, Camp, is well-primed to bring us something we already know and like. Problem is, at least with this pilot episode (expect nine more over the rest of the summer) -- it's trying too hard to be all memories to all people. Just look at the number of moments featured in these first 42 minutes:

  • Two sex scenes
  • Leukemia
  • A basketball court skirmish
  • An ATV skirmish
  • Swimming
  • Pushing
  • Boating
  • A talent show
  • That same talent show threatened with cancellation
  • That same talent show, the one above, saved by some quick thinking
  • A raid on another camp
  • Dweebs

I wouldn't have batted an eye if the camp had run into some money trou-OH WAIT THAT HAPPENED TOO!

I'm being overcritical. None of the episode's turns was handled that poorly, and the characters we met -- what felt like 15 of them, Dickens-style -- each had some defining characteristic(s) that kept any of them from feeling too anonymous. Mac (Rachel Griffiths), for instance, is the camp director recently separated from her cheating husband inextricably drawn to the rival camp director across the lake. Sarah (Dena Kaplan) keeps returning to the same summer fling with a fellow counselor. It's romantic conflict across the board, sure, but each plot engages at least a little bit. No small feat for a big ensemble dramedy! I guess now I'd just like a stronger sense of what this show wants to be, exactly.

...Actually, forget that and just tell me what in the hell a "Family" camp is. What is the mission statement of a camp whose counselors are all college-plus age and whose charges appear to be between the ages of 7 and 46? What's on their activities docket for the duration of the summer? Why are grown men losing glass eyes down by the lake? Is this some sort of camp fever dream I've conjured up entirely out of mid-90s comedies?

Camp. We'll be watching! (Number of "camp"s in this article = 13)