Jennifer Garner, Juliette Lewis trade comedic zingers
It’ll be a challenge for Sydney Bristow (of “Alias”) or Riley North (of “Peppermint”) to find something immediately likable about high-strung and uptight Kathryn, Jennifer Garner’s party-pooper character in the upcoming eight-episode comedy series “Camping,” which debuts on Monday at 10 a.m. on HBO and HBO Go.
Kathryn doesn’t really set out to make life a living hell for her family and friends, but her pushy nature rubs people the wrong way.
But, things come to a head when she organizes a back-to-nature camping trip to celebrate the 45th birthday of her husband, Walt (David Tennant).
Soft-spoken Walt finds it difficult to fully enjoy his special day as he watches his wife micromanage everything that everyone does at the Brown Bear Lake campsite with rigid—and often joyless—efficiency. It doesn’t help that their guests are dealing with contentious issues of their own.
For one, Kathryn’s “mandatory thrills” aren’t her subservient sister Carleen’s (Ione Skye) idea of four-day fun, especially because the latter sees the trip as an opportunity to bond with her detached daughter Sol (Cheyenne Haynes), a closeted lesbian who’s slowly discovering her sexuality.
Carleen’s husband Joe (Chris Sullivan) is a recovering alcoholic who’s been to rehab three times in the past.
Joining them are holier-than-thou Nina-Joy (Janicza Bravo), Kathryn’s African-American former best friend, and her husband George (Brett Gelman), whom Nina-Joy censures for fighting her race-related battles for her.
But, Kathryn’s world is turned upside down when the recently separated Miguel (Arturo del Puerto) arrives at the lakeside camp with his happy-go-lucky rebound love, reiki healer Jandice, portrayed to loopy perfection by the scene-stealing Juliette Lewis.
The free-spirited newcomer’s penchant for breaking rules instantly discombobulates Kathryn, who gets the shock of her life when Jandice announces her surprise engagement to Miguel—who just broke up with their friend Margaret three weeks ago.
It doesn’t take long before the high expectations for Kathryn’s carefully planned outdoor “party” come crashing down, fueled further by Walt’s long-suppurating midlife crisis, which has finally found a less-than-ideal venue to explode in.
The birthday boy has had enough of his sexless marriage—his roll in the hay with Kathryn was two years ago—as well as his wife’s overcontrolling ways!
Adapted from the British series by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, “Camping” doesn’t always work—the characters’ manic and idiosyncratic quirks, especially Kathryn’s, are tirelessly played for laughs.
But, when it works, it delivers precious comedic zingers and laugh-out-loud moments that allow viewers a clarificatory peek into the discontented lives of its protagonists, not the least of which is the rip-roaring sequence in Episode 4 that sees an Adderall-intoxicated Kathryn and the less-than-amused Nina-Joy crossing paths and trading stories with a trio of fun-loving women led by Beth Ann (Nicole Richie).
Moreover, Jennifer, Juliette and company convey their characters’ joys and zany woes with such disarming relatability that you end up hoping they’d eventually find a way to “tame their demons” in “Camping’s” final four episodes.
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