Sunday, October 14, 2018

REVIEW: 'Camping' - Kathryn Gathers Friends and Family to Celebrate Walt's Birthday in 'Pilot'

HBO's Camping - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

A "perfect" group camping trip, obsessively organized by Kathryn McSorley-Jodell in honor of her adoring husband Walt's 45th birthday, is threatened by tension between Kathryn and her estranged best friend, Nina-Joy, the unexpected addition of a pissed-off goth teen and the chaotic arrival of Miguel, who is smack dab in the middle of a breakdown and toting his new girlfriend, Jandice, a woman of many talents who rubs Kathryn the wrong way.

In 2018, it has become very difficult to keep up with every television show out there. It's even more difficult to provide adequate coverage on this site about the episodes that air every week. Not every show can get full coverage because of my busy and hectic viewing schedule. As such, some reviews will now be condensed to give only some summary thoughts. But it also affords a space for me to jot down my thoughts on the various episodes. And so, here are my thoughts on this week's episode of HBO's Camping.

"Pilot" was written by Lena Dunham & Jenni Konner and directed by Jenni Konner

For six seasons, Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner produced Girls for HBO. It was a comedy about insufferable 20-somethings where awkwardness and cringe comedy were fully on display. Not everything always worked on that show. But it was clear that that was the mold the creative team was comfortable writing in. As such, it shouldn't be surprising that their first follow-up to that success would also embrace that tone. Their new series Camping was even able to lure Jennifer Garner back to television for the first time since the end of Alias. That was very impressive as she was one of the white whales who needed to come back to the medium that gave her some terrific material that she doesn't always find in the movies. And yet, this premiere is so absolutely dire and misconceived in every virtual way. It lives and breathes over whether or not the audience can laugh at the horrendous actions committed by the characters. But there is so much wrong on display here. It's completely baffling. Garner's Kathryn seems to be the only person actually excited about this camping trip. No one else even seems to be an avid camper or actually enjoys being out in nature to spend some quality time with friends and family. Moreover, Kathryn only enjoys it because she sees it as an excuse to control every aspect of the day with the people around her. The show presents no reason why any of these people would be friends with Kathryn. She is so horrendous. She demands that people have sympathy for her because of health issues stemming back from a hysterectomy. And yet, she sees everything as an attack against her. She positions herself as the glue that holds this group together and takes it as a personal assault when she is kept out of the loop of something big happening in someone else's lives. Again, cringe comedy can be very effective. It just doesn't work here in the slightest. There is nothing remotely funny about Kathryn stealing all of the mattress pads because she wants to prioritize herself over her friends and family. She sees no problem talking about her pelvic floor to everyone even to her son. She does so even though she is also withholding of sex to her husband, Walt. This is such a woeful role for David Tennant. He is usually such a lively and compelling performer. Here, he is playing a guy who just cedes all control over to his wife. The show attributes that to him being a pacifist. It's suppose to be ridiculous whenever someone in the family is given a gun to use on this camping trip. It's as if they had no understanding of this area before they booked it for this event. That seems like something that Kathryn would do considering just how much control she needs to have in order to survive this weekend. But again, it doesn't feel like a weekend that anyone is enjoying. Everyone just seems glum and depressed. It's not interesting or compelling in the slightest. There are no observations about getting older and finding contentment with life or the urge to explore something different. There is no reason for Walt to put up with this abuse or find it charming. Kathryn is someone who needs help and her friends are always just talking around that central issue. There appears to be some tension between her and a friend. But there's no real desire to explore that further. This premiere is all about introducing this cast as they arrive for this weekend adventure. And yet, Garner remains the sole focus. Everything is filtered through the way that Kathryn views the world. Right now, that is completely the wrong perspective to have on display. There is no reason why Garner should have made this her TV comeback vehicle. Hopefully, it's a show that launches with a thud for HBO so that this talented cast can move on to bigger and better things. That already seems to be what Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner have done with their split as writing and producing partners. They claim that it was amicable so they could explore different interests. However, it seems like a direct response from the execution of Camping being wildly different, more depressing and lackluster than anyone could have expected.