Gar­ner loves camp­ing, and be­ing hated in ‘Camp­ing’

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Pa­trick Ryan USA TO­DAY

For two peo­ple mak­ing a show called “Camp­ing,” Lena Dun­ham and Jenni Kon­ner sure hate the out­doors.

“It was not well thought out,” dead­pans Kon­ner, re­turn­ing to HBO af­ter the pair co-cre­ated “Girls.” “We loved writ­ing the show, and then we were like, ‘Oh, this re­ally means we need to be in the dirt all day, ev­ery day.’ ”

Their aver­sion to na­ture was par­tic­u­larly amus­ing to se­ries star Jen­nifer Gar­ner, who “didn’t re­al­ize how out­doorsy I was un­til I was (on set) with Jenni and Lena, who felt pun­ished ev­ery day we had to be out­side,” she re­calls. Co-star David Ten­nant and Gar­ner “thought it was the big­gest gift. Ev­ery day, all we could do was be like, ‘Look at that oak tree! Look at that sun­rise!’ ”

If only Gar­ner’s “Camp­ing” char­ac­ter shared her serene out­look. In the acer­bic new com­edy (Sun­day, 10 EDT/PDT), the “Alias” ac­tress makes her smallscreen come­back as Kathryn McSor­leyJodell, a high-strung mom who in­vites her friends on a camp­ing trip to cel­e­brate her hus­band Walt’s (Ten­nant) birth­day.

Equipped with binders of metic­u­lously or­ga­nized ac­tiv­ity sched­ules, Kathryn im­pe­ri­ously at­tempts a pic­ture-per­fect get­away but in­stead makes her young son (Dun­can Joiner) and fel­low cou­ples mis­er­able. Among them: a sex-crazed reiki healer (Juli­ette Lewis), an oafish re­cov­er­ing addict (Joe Sul­li­van, “This Is Us”) and Kathryn’s dim younger sis­ter (Ione Skye), who drink and have sex in ir­rev­er­ent re­bel­lion.

“Camp­ing” is based on a 2016 Bri­tish se­ries, which also re­volved around un­pleas­ant peo­ple work­ing through re­la­tion­ship is­sues in the claus­tro­pho­bic set­ting of a camp­ing trip. It’s a nat­u­ral fol­low-up to “Girls,” which ended its sixsea­son run last year, in that both mine toxic fe­male friend­ships for un­com­fort­able laughs.

Through Kathryn and her es­tranged best friend Nina-Joy (Jan­icza Bravo), “we hoped to ex­plore how women can be re­ally cruel to each other, even though we be­lieve deeply in fe­male friend­ships be­ing the core of our lives,” Kon­ner says. “One of the cen­tral ques­tions of this is, ‘What hap­pens when you get a group of peo­ple to­gether and you can’t just walk away from the friend who is an­noy­ing you and not call them for three days?’ “

Af­ter the first four of the sea­son’s eight episodes were made avail­able to crit­ics, some were put off by Kathryn, call­ing her “tyran­ni­cally at­ten­tive,” “ir­ri­tat­ing” and “in­suf­fer­able.”

Gar­ner agrees with those ad­jec­tives but as­sures “you’ll un­der­stand her, even if you don’t love her” by sea­son’s end. Read­ing the scripts, “I could see where the old Kathryn had been cov­ered up by years and years of in­se­cu­rity and see what her re­la­tion­ship with her hus­band used to be,” she says.

One of the chief road­blocks in their mar­riage is Kathryn’s ongoing strug­gle with chronic pain, which led to mul­ti­ple surg­eries, in­clud­ing a hys­terec­tomy. It’s a com­mon thread be­tween the char­ac­ter and Dun­ham, who opened up about her own hys­terec­tomy ear­lier this year and was forced to pull out of pro­mot­ing “Camp­ing” this week due to her con­tin­ued bat­tle with en­dometrio­sis.

Dun­ham “is so brave and ar­tic­u­late about what her body has put her through and talked to me about it,” Gar­ner says. “When you suf­fer from chronic pain – and I don’t, thank God, I’m only speak­ing from hav­ing read and spo­ken to a bunch of peo­ple who have – you don’t feel good, but no­body can see it, so peo­ple ex­pect you to feel fine and per­form any­way.

“Poor Kathryn is just ex­hausted,” she con­tin­ues. “She’s ex­hausted from be­ing ex­pected to be some­thing she can’t be any­more and hasn’t been able to be for a long time.”

Al­though she has played type-A char­ac­ters in “Juno,” “But­ter” and now “Camp­ing,” Gar­ner in­sists she is not so fas­tid­i­ous, de­spite try­ing to “plan my nuts off ” ev­ery fam­ily va­ca­tion. The fa­mously pri­vate star en­joys camp­ing with her three kids.

“We have a pole bro­ken in our tent – a very im­por­tant pole that we’ve put back to­gether with duct tape – but I think we need to get that re­placed be­fore we can pull it back out,” Gar­ner says of the fam­ily’s wilder­ness digs. “But yes, we will be camp­ing again soon.”

ANNE MARIE FOX/HBO

Pain-rid­den Kathryn (Jen­nifer Gar­ner) has off-screen par­al­lels to “Camp­ing” co-cre­ator Lena Dun­ham.

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