Netflix can make documentaries, dramas, even “dramedies”, but can it do comedy? That question will be answered at Camp Firewood, the all-American retro setting for Netflix’s new eight-part series, which has just appeared on the site.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (or WHAS: FDOC as I like to call it) is a prequel to the "original 2001 cult classic" film Wet Hot American Summer. I didn't realise that things made in 2001 could be classic, but its writer David Wain better explains what they mean by cult: "After Sundance . . . we didn't get a single offer. Eventually it came out on DVD. Still most people have never heard of it."
And so Netflix has invited the entire original cast – including the brilliant Amy Poehler, the inoffensive nice guy Paul Rudd, and Bradley Cooper, more of whom later – of a 15-year-old film no one's heard of to reprise their roles. The old guard are joined by some new "all star" faces: Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Chris Pine, Jason Schwartzman, Kristen Wiig, "Weird Al" Yankovic and half the now-unemployed cast of Mad Men.
The result, set in 1981, is an occasionally funny, foul-mouthed version of Happy Days with a large helping of American Pie humour and Wonder Years nostalgia, topped with Scooby-Doo! plots.
Someone, somewhere has decided that Bradley Cooper is a great actor of our time – four Academy Award nominations – even through he reeked in American Hustle, barely moved in Silver Linings Playbook and was outshone in The Hangover Parts I, II and III. Yet, in WHAS: FDOC, playing a gay youth theatre director, he finally shines: Cooper can do camp at camp.
Have you ever noticed how all the women in period dramas are either ethereal, porcelain-skinned, pillowy-lipped beauties or dowdy, strong-nosed, plain Janes? No change, then, in Life in Squares (BBC Two, Monday, 9pm), a three-part miniseries based on the lives of the painter Vanessa Bell, née Stephen (Phoebe Fox), and her sister, the writer Virginia Woolf (Eve Best), both part of the bohemian Bloomsbury set.
It's 1905 and Daddy's dead. In the free-thinking post-Victorian era the gahls are left living with their brother Thoby as a chaperone. Thoby sits around in dimly lit circles with his mates, discussing the merits of Byron's Don Juan while the women offer refreshments. ("May I trouble you for another one of those remarkable buns, Miss Stephen?")
Just as action flicks have become formulaic – tough guy with a grudge walks away from explosions, chase through some sort of farmer's market, bad guys from China or Russia – Life in Squares wastes no time in pulling out all the costume-drama cliches.
Cotton-clad BFF sisters sit in front of dressing tables at night, brushing their silken hair and wistfully wondering about matrimony; there’s a snobby old aunt with a face like a sphincter; there is no such thing as a dull letter, because everyone writes utterly enchanting correspondence; and when people get sick they lie motionless in bed, looking pristine and pale with purple lips, and have the decency to move their heads once and die.
Although Life in Squares is billed as one to get pulses racing, this bohemian set only ever get hot under the collar about lit-rah-chaaa and painting. The men do bonk each other a bit, but the most outlandish things these beautiful young things do is take baths in front of each other, throw the odd corset out of the window, have tasteful sex and make "flamboyant" fashion statements in the form of coloured socks.
Fox and Best capture the tension in the Stephens sisters’ close relationship just at the point where it begins to tear. Other than that there’s not much for either to do besides look good in chignons and diffused lighting. The teaser for the next episode hints at more extramarital affairs, which is all we can hope for, because otherwise these bohemians are right squares.
Finally to ITV’s latest contribution to the panting canon of reality shows: “Tonight, from the heart of the great British countryside, it’s the first round of a unique sheepherding competition.” Sadly, you aren’t having a reaction to the Xanax you found at the bottom of your handbag: this is Flockstars (Thursdays, 8pm), a real show where slebs have a go at shepherding.
Okay, let's meet the celebrity competitors. I, for one, can't wait to see Dustin Hoffman and Beyoncé getting their hands dirty on the farm. Too bad! The line-up consists of a retired radio DJ and someone off a daytime property show, with a sprinkling of stardust in the form of Fazer, from N-Dubz. This is a man who was once escorted from a plane for threatening passengers, and who has posted photographs of himself on Instagram holding a gun with the caption "U ain't worth the bullets." He'll be great with animals.
The serious sports broadcaster Gabby Logan (in mandatory plaid shirt) tells us that the stars will need to develop an “intense relationship” with their four-legged friends, as they guide “not only sheep” but also gaggles of geese to win the Flockstar title and a lifetime supply of teeth-whitening strips.
First up is Strictly Come Dancing's Brendan Cole, who has been teamed up with Hoggy, a wilful two-year-old who needs a firm hand. Twinkle-toes Cole must teach Hoggy to master the quickstep and the basics of Latin dance (we wish). Cue a montage of fruitless training until, finally, Cole realises he has to change his excitable personality to succeed. So at least something good has come of this sheepshit.
Next is the property presenter Amanda Lamb, who should be ace at this. But "glamorous" Lamb keeps asking if she can go to the Maldives when it starts to rain. So her trainer decrees that she'll need to be roughed up, which sounds like an infinitely more watchable show. Lamb turns out to be lamb only by name. Her herd of Hebrideans – a fast, feisty, flighty bunch – jump the fence and escape from the studio pen, providing a single sheep-dropping- sized moment of viewing pleasure.
Between the endless training montages, celebs waffling about "challenges" and wanting to win, and trainers waffling about their VIPs' progress, there is actually one good thing about Flockstars: the dogs. They are intelligent, hard-working, athletic, perceptive, inspiring. You wonder why ITV bothered with the Z-listers and didn't just give the mutts their own show.
Ones to Watch Bake, then shake
Set your twee-o-meter to 220 degrees, because the lighter- than- a-sponge, sweeter- than-mummy’s-homemade-jam Great British Bake Off (BBC One, Wednesday) is back with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry (right). How much more cake can you take?
If you can’t hold out for the next season of Peaky Blinders then check out Atlantic (BBC Two, Thursday) for a fix of Cillian Murphy. It’s the latest awesome nature series from the BBC, and is narrated by the Corkman. A beast of a show.
Bernice Harrison is away