October 15, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere TV Review: “Camping”


CAMPING:  Sunday 10PM on HBO

Although HBO’s new comedy CAMPING is set in the great outdoors, it has the dynamics of a filmed play.  The concept is simple:  throw a number of mismatched characters together in a confined area, and watch them rub each other the wrong way.  In this case, the occasion is a 45th birthday celebration for Walt (David Tennant), a camping expedition organized by his tightly-wound, control freak wife Kathryn (Jennifer Garner).  The guests include Kathryn’s sister Carleen (Ione Skye) and her in-recovery husband (Chris Sullivan, from This Is Us), as well as Walt’s brother George (Brett Gelman) and his wife Nina-Joy (Janicza Bravo), with whom Kathryn has some tension.  This kind of assembly needs a wild card, here provided by Miguel (Arturo Del Puerto) and his arrival with his new and very New Age girlfriend Jandice (Juliette Lewis).

Camping is the second and apparently final show created by the now-defunct team of Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner after Girls.  (It’s based on a British comedy that aired last spring in the UK.)  Girls itself had quite a few episodes that gathered together various groups of the characters to annoy each other, and Dunham and Konner are proficient at setting the mines for people’s relationships to step on and trigger explosions.  (Konner also directed the opening episode.)  In the early going, much of the balance is tipped toward the most obvious source of tension, Kathryn’s obsessive need to run things, and her discomfort at the barely-acknowledged realization that the people around her may not like her as much as she needs them to.

That may quickly grow monotonous, but the show is lucky to have Garner in the role, not only because her timing and handling of tone are expert, but because her presence adds a sort of meta level to the proceedings, thanks to all the perfect moms she’s played over the years.  The other prominent figure in the first half-hour is Lewis, fun but on the verge of parody as the ultra-free spirit counterweight to Kathryn’s iron fist.  The rest of the very fine cast mostly gets to introduce itself, although Skye and Garner hit a successfully cringe-worthy rhythm of dysfunctional sibling behavior very quickly.

Camping is only eight half-hours, designed to build as the characters scrape each other raw.  The big laughs, if they’re going to come, will be in later episodes.  At the outset, although no one will mistake the show’s limited scope for the ambitions of Girls, it’s a moderate amusing fall excursion.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."