Garner returns to TV in HBO’s ‘Camping’
Kelly Lawler: You’ll love hating the star’s uber-organized-mom character
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.
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.
David Tennant and Jennifer Garner are unhappy campers.