No ‘Girls’ on ‘Camp­ing’ trip

This ‘Camp­ing’ trip is rich in tal­ent, but you may or may not en­joy char­ac­ters’ com­pany.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - ROBERT LLOYD TELE­VI­SION CRITIC robert.lloyd@la­ Twit­ter: @LATimesTVLloyd

HBO series from Lena Dun­ham fea­tures peev­ish mid­dle-aged char­ac­ters. Bring mos­quito re­pel­lent.

“Camp­ing,” which pre­mieres Sun­day on HBO, comes from Lena Dun­ham and Jenni Kon­ner, who worked on HBO’s “Girls” to­gether, and obliquely of Ju­lia Davis, the Bri­tish co­me­dian and writer who cre­ated the U.K. series this one is mod­eled on. A midlife com­edy, with a ten­dency to­ward car­i­ca­ture, it is noth­ing at all like “Girls.”

Walt (David Ten­nant, Scot­tish play­ing Amer­i­can) is turn­ing 45, and to mark the oc­ca­sion — cel­e­brate isn’t quite the word — his wife, Kathryn (Jen­nifer Gar­ner), has or­ga­nized a camp­ing trip with friends and some fam­ily, with the em­pha­sis on “or­ga­nized.” With her fanny pack and clip­board, Kathryn is a sched­uler, a con­trol freak with­out con­trol and chronic over­re­ac­tor, es­pe­cially as con­cerns the health of their son, Orvis (Dun­can Joiner), a nor­mally healthy child she re­gards as more frag­ile than spun sugar. Gar­ner plays her as stiff, with hard edges and sharp an­gles. Ten­nant plays Walt as pa­tient.

Shar­ing the week­end are Walt’s friends Ge­orge (Brett Gel­man, notch­ing an­other sit­com on his much notched sit­com gun) and Miguel (Ar­turo Del Puerto). Wal­ter’s long­time part­ner Ni­naJoy (Jan­icza Bravo) is on the outs with Kathryn over some­thing not im­me­di­ately re­vealed, but which Kathryn so des­per­ately wants to re­pair that one won­ders whether the week­end was ar­ranged specif­i­cally so Nina-Joy would have to talk to her.

Miguel, whose wife has left him for a waiter, has ar­rived with a new, un­in­vited girl­friend, Jandice (Juli­ette Lewis), “a DJ, a reiki healer, I make and sell my own net cheeses and I do some mod­el­ing for this fig­ure draw­ing class, and I’m a no­tary,” al­ter­nately arch­ing her back and lean­ing for­ward in a way that oddly re­calls Mick Jag­ger on­stage. They have a lot of sex. (Kathryn and Walt wear match­ing plaid pa­ja­mas and do not.)

Fill­ing out the camp­ground are Kathryn’s ac­com­mo­dat­ing sis­ter, Car­leen (Ione Skye) — “You fol­low from the front,” Kathryn tells her, “it con­fuses peo­ple” — and her caus­tic hus­band Joe (Chris Sul­li­van), a not ex­actly re­cov­er­ing sub­stance abuser who left his 30-day re­cov­ery chip as a tip at a Denny’s. They are tot­ing his (un­in­vited) teenage daugh­ter, Sol (Cheyenne Haynes), sus­pended from school for bring­ing a knife to cho­rus. He is less than happy to be there, and she is un­hap­pier. But none of these campers is re­ally happy, or li­able to be hang­ing out to­gether any­where other than a tele­vi­sion show.

Kathryn has pains and con­di­tions, some of which might be psy­cho­so­matic, but all of which re­main fore­front in her mind. When we first see her, she’s wear­ing a sweat­shirt with “Intl. Women’s Pain Con­fer­ence, Syd­ney #Painfully Strong” printed on the back. It is a lit­tle hard to know how to take all this, since we are in­vited to — di­rected to — find her ridicu­lous, even as we get grue­some de­tails about ail­ments we are ap­par­ently sup­posed to take as real.

Sim­i­larly, that Joe is an al­co­holic who will be spend­ing much of this long week­end drink­ing hardly reg­is­ters as much as a quizzi­cal look or con­cerned com­ment from any­one other than his wife; is his drink­ing sup­posed to be funny? I don’t know. I sup­pose it may lead to some­thing in the two episodes not yet avail­able for re­view. Per­haps that is just how peo­ple re­ally are.

The show runs hot and cold — well, warm and cold — de­pend­ing on who’s on screen; not all these char­ac­ters have been cre­ated equally deep. But Skye stands out, not as a laugh­get­ter par­tic­u­larly, but as a per­son you might en­counter in real life and not eas­ily sum up; you feel she has feel­ings, and not just com­i­cal re­ac­tions. Lewis, who does play a car­i­ca­ture, nev­er­the­less stands out, play­ing her ridicu­lous­ness as rea­son­able.

These are all tal­ented peo­ple in this thing (Bridget Ev­erett is here too, as the woman who runs the camp, and there are guest shots from Busy Philipps and Ni­cole Richie, glamp­ing), and some­times they have in­ter­est­ing things to do, and some­times they are merely pleas­ant to watch, and some­times, de­pend­ing on what they have to say, less pleas­ant.

Some­times they are just peo­ple on a screen who will be gone soon. But these con­di­tions change rapidly, and if you are in­clined to keep watch­ing, you may see some­thing you like be­fore long. The rest you can duly note.

But if you have ever wanted to see David Ten­nant’s knees, or any inch at all of Juli­ette Lewis, this is the show for you.

Anne Marie Fox HBO

WALT (David Ten­nant) is turn­ing 45, so his wife, Kathryn (Jen­nifer Gar­ner), has or­ga­nized a trip. There will be some un­ex­pected guests.

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