Gar­ner re­turns to TV in HBO’s ‘Camp­ing’

Kelly Lawler: You’ll love hat­ing the star’s uber-or­ga­nized-mom char­ac­ter

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Kelly Lawler Colum­nist USA TO­DAY

Jen­nifer Gar­ner has, by now, es­tab­lished her own char­ac­ter type. Af­ter break­ing out in ABC’s “Alias” she played a su­per­hero (“Dare­devil” and “Elek­tra”) and a rom-com hero­ine (“13 Go­ing on 30”), but was soon pi­geon­holed into moth­erly roles, from “Juno” to this year’s “Love, Si­mon.”

Her big re­turn to TV, in HBO’s “Camp­ing,” seems to be a de­lib­er­ate skew­er­ing of all the khaki capri-clad moms she’s played. The se­ries (Sun­day, 10 EDT/PDT, is adapted from a Bri­tish com­edy about a group of mid­dle-aged friends who go on an ill­fated camp­ing trip to cel­e­brate a birth­day. The new ver­sion, from “Girls” cre- ators Lena Dun­ham and Jenni Kon­ner, amps up the cringe hu­mor ex­po­nen­tially, with a cast of char­ac­ters so loath­some they make Han­nah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna look saintly by com­par­i­son. Some­times it’s funny, some­times it just makes you cringe.

Gar­ner an­chors the cast as Kathryn, an overzeal­ous In­sta­gram mom who or­ga­nizes the camp­ing trip for her pushover hus­band Walt (David Ten­nant) on his 45th birth­day. Along for the week­end are her meek sis­ter Car­leen (Ione Skye) and her boyfriend Joe (Chris Sul­li­van), a re­cov­er­ing al­co­holic with some anger is­sues; Kathryn’s ex-best friend Nina-Joy (Jan­icza Bravo) and her brash hus­band Ge­orge (Brett Gel­man); and their re­cently sin­gle friend Miguel (Ar­turo Del Puerto), who sur­prises the group by show­ing up with Jandice (Juli­ette Lewis), a woman who checks all the boxes of a “free spirit” stereo­type.

Kathryn comes with binders, to-do lists and an in­tense sched­ule, and is com­pletely thrown by Jandice’s im­pro­vi­sa­tional style, not to men­tion her sud­den pop­u­lar­ity within the group. That ten­sion, along with al­co­hol, drugs and a

group of peo­ple who aren’t so in touch with the out­doors, leads to con­flicts and cat­a­clysms that come fast and fu­ri­ous.

Gar­ner is the real stand­out, and you’ll love how much you’ll hate her. It al­most seems like an af­front to Type-A peo­ple to describe Kathryn that way, but she is and then some. A Virgo (one can only as­sume) on steroids, she ag­gres­sively or­ga­nizes her life and self­ishly steals all the camp­ing mat­tresses from her friend. She’s a hypochon­driac who invents mal­adies for her son and hus­band.

De­spite Gar­ner’s snow­plow per­for­mance, Ten­nant holds his own against her as a waif-like, weak foil. With an Amer­i­can ac­cent and a goofy hat, it’s a whole new kind of char­ac­ter for the Bri­tish ac­tor, but he nails it. Lewis also man­ages to get a few great one-lin­ers in as Jandice, al­though the cliches threaten to over­come her per­for-

There are mo­ments when “Camp­ing” feels a lit­tle point­lessly mis­an­thropic, and oth­ers where it just feels ran­dom.

mance.

Un­for­tu­nately, the rest of the cast is for­get­table, and their char­ac­ters are gener­i­cally an­noy­ing and an­gry. Their bad be­hav­ior even­tu­ally be­comes repet­i­tive and more irk­some than funny.

“Camp­ing” starts out awk­wardly, but by the third episode it finds a bet­ter balance, as the camp­ing trip de­volves into ever-more-ab­surd an­tics, in­clud­ing an ac­ci­den­tal drug dose and a few sur­prise celebrity cameos. The char­ac­ters be­come more un­hinged as the night­mare trip goes on, and the glee with which the ac­tors por­tray them el­e­vates, un­til there’s more de­li­ciously funny, shock­ing chaos.

There are mo­ments when “Camp­ing” feels a lit­tle point­lessly mis­an­thropic, and oth­ers where it just feels ran­dom. In the mid­dle are a few laughs, a few good per­for­mances and a lit­tle bit of that “Girls” sense of hu­mor.

Like camp­ing it­self, it is def­i­nitely not for ev­ery­one, but some might just love it.

FOX/HBO

ANNE MARIE FOX/HBO

David Ten­nant and Jen­nifer Gar­ner are un­happy campers.

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