HBO’s “Camping” is good, not great, which is hard to excuse given the project’s concentration of talent on both sides of the camera.
The show, based on a British series by the same name, does indeed involve camping. Neurotic leading lady Kathryn, played by Jennifer Garner, organizes a trip into the wilderness to celebrate her husband’s birthday with their dysfunctional group of friends. Chaos, as you can imagine, ensues immediately.
The cast is packed, featuring a nerded-out David Tennant as Garner’s long-suffering husband, and Juliette Lewis as the eccentric new lover of their recently separated friend, Miguel. Lewis’s performance as the free-spirited, drug-addled Jandice makes the show worth watching on its own. Jandice benefits from some of the series’ best writing, but Lewis also projects a clear vision for a character that’s anything but.
Speaking of the writing, “Camping” is a product of Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, who combined their talents masterfully on “Girls.” Not all of the eight episodes—five of which have aired to date— were penned by Dunham and Konner. But their mark endures.
Still, most of the characters feel more like one-dimensional tropes than people, vessels for the sharp one-liners sprinkled not quite liberally enough through the show’s half-hour episodes to make for must-see TV. Garner’s character, an Instagram-obsessed mommy and chronic pain blogger, seems inconsistent, swinging from irritable and fragile to suddenly and inexplicably angry. In many ways, “Girls” did the opposite, embracing reductive cliches to give them new depth.
Bridget Everett and Busy Phillips are hilarious in secondary roles. Everett as “Harry,” the campsite’s dubiously competent proprietor, is a bright spot in particular.
Stitched together, it’s all enough to make the show worth watching. The half-hour format spares the sensation of a slog and keeps the plot moving at an acceptable pace. Comedies can get away with poor character development if they reject the need for it outright, but “Camping” still wants to pack an emotional punch. With three episodes left, it remains steady on a course toward mediocrity.