Af­ter Girls, Lena Dun­ham has a Camp­ing dis­as­ter

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - ARTS - JOHN DOYLE

The show, based on the Bri­tish se­ries of the same ti­tle, is not fun to watch at all

Any­thing Lena Dun­ham does af­ter Girls is go­ing is get ma­jor at­ten­tion. For sev­eral years, the era-defin­ing se­ries brought com­men­su­rate amounts of adu­la­tion and de­ri­sion. Ms. Dun­ham’s com­ing-ofage char­ac­ter, Han­nah, was as com­pelling as she was ir­ri­tat­ingly pre­cious.

The se­ries was a com­edy, mind you, and of­ten much less a por­trait of a gen­er­a­tion than it was per­ceived to be. And com­pli­cated com­edy is what Dun­ham (and cre­ative part­ner Jenni Kon­ner) is do­ing again. Re­gret­tably, it looks like an epic mis­fire.

Camp­ing (Sun­day, HBO, 9 p.m.) is a small-scale cre­ative out­ing, far from epic, and lit­er­ally about a fam­ily-and-friends out­ing to the coun­try­side. (Dun­ham isn’t in it, but she’s the force be­hind it.) It’s about mid­dle­class, pre­ten­tious peo­ple and at its core is the most an­noy­ing mom on the planet, one Kathryn McSor­ley-Jodell (Jen­nifer Gar­ner). We watch in in­creas­ing awe as Kathryn does one squirm-in­duc­ing thing af­ter an­other.

The premise, based on the Bri­tish se­ries of the same ti­tle, cre­ated by Ju­lia Davis, is con­cise. To cel­e­brate hus­band Walt (David Ten­nant) on his 45th birth­day, Kathryn or­ga­nizes a few days away at a camp­ing site. Ev­ery­thing is planned down to the last minute of ac­tiv­ity. A se­lect group of fam­ily and pals is in­vited. The first to turn up is Kathryn’s docile sis­ter Car­leen (Ione Skye) and Kathryn im­me­di­ately sug­gests her sis­ter leave be­cause, un­known to her, Car­leen has brought her boyfriend and his daugh­ter from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage, Sol (Cheyenne Haynes). No kids was the rule, ex­cept for Kathryn’s own, much cod­dled boy, Orvis.

Kathryn’s fuss­ing over Orvis is a good part of the com­edy. Also, her ob­ses­sion with the fact that she had a hys­terec­tomy a few years ear­lier. The phrase “Mom- my’s pelvic floor” is a run­ning joke and you are meant to cringe when Kathryn snaps, “My pipes are in­flamed!” She’s the sort of per­son who says, “Let’s make eye con­tact with each other” to get over some em­bar­rass­ment she’s caused. Into this gag­gle of bour­geois peo­ple who are afraid of Kathryn’s in­ten­sity comes Jandice (Juli­ette Lewis), a free-spir­ited bo­hemian and new girl­friend to Kathryn and Walt’s friend Miguel.

Jandice says things such as “hos­pi­tals make you sick,” be­lieves she’s a healer of some sort and, on the first sight of a lake near the camp­ground, goes skinny-dip­ping, while Kathryn bel­lows, “There may be brain-eat­ing amoe­bas in there! Let me re­mind you that none of you is wear­ing sun­screen!”

The Kathryn fig­ure isn’t funny. At all. Nei­ther is her foil, Jandice, who is, sim­ply, a mo­ron. (The CBC’s Baroness von Sketch Show mocks these types of fe­male fig­ures much more deftly in 60-sec­ond sketches.) Not funny in the slight­est, too, is meek hus­band Walt, and you watch David Ten­nant with some amaze­ment that he signed up for this dis­as­ter.

Far be it from any fella to tell Lena Dun­ham she’s wrong, but this critic be­lieves she’s com­pletely mis­in­ter­preted the orig­i­nal Camp­ing and the com­edy style of Ju­lia Davis. Davis is unique. She sets out to make the au­di­ence un­com­fort­able by min­ing the lack of a moral com­pass in peo­ple from a very par­tic­u­lar stra­tum in the Bri­tish class sys­tem. Her char­ac­ters are not be­ing mocked. Her charac- ters are ap­palling be­cause there is a deep empti­ness in­side them. They are bored, melan­choly and push boundaries of be­hav­iour be­cause their lives are so limited. What Dun­ham might see as satire is noth­ing of the sort – it’s a cry for help from the depths of weari­ness.

Camp­ing isn’t fun to watch at all. By all means, watch it just to see a mis­fire take shape. (There are eight half-hour episodes.) The ac­tors seem driven by an idea, not by plea­sure in the script or work­ing to­gether. Yes, it’s hi­lar­i­ous to watch Kathryn’s hys­te­ria. For all of two min­utes. Find the work of Ju­lia Davis – Nighty Night is a true clas­sic – rather than this wretched­ness.

ALSO AIR­ING THIS WEEK­END

A Day in the Life of Earth (Sun­day, CBC on The Na­ture of Things) is a lovely, eye-pop­ping na­ture doc­u­men­tary that sets out to show how the Earth changes on a scale that plays out ev­ery day.

The point is to dis­pel our no­tion that it takes mil­lions of years for the Earth to truly change.

A Canada/Bri­tain co-pro­duc­tion it shows us how, over 24 hours, shifts in the tec­tonic plates cre­ate a new Earth sur­face in acres, not mil­lime­tres. We watch vol­ca­noes spew lava and see how an un­der­wa­ter cave can change shape in a mat­ter of hours.

This isn’t one of those omi­nous warn­ings about the en­vi­ron­ment. It’s a cel­e­bra­tion of the Earth’s mys­te­ri­ous con­tent and how ev­ery­thing is truly, mag­i­cally con­nected.

HBO CANADA

Camp­ing is a small-scale cre­ative out­ing, far from epic, and it’s about ex­actly what you’d ex­pect from the name – a fam­ily-and-friends out­ing to the coun­try­side.

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