I don’t think I’ve ever watched one episode of the short-lived sitcom Camp Wilder before. It only aired for half a season on TGIF from September 1992 to February 1993 before being cancelled due to low ratings. Thanks to my new best friend Wikipedia, I’ve gleaned this synopsis of the premise, which I will quote directly here for your (and my) convenience:
“Ricky Wilder (Mary Page Keller) is a 28-year-old nurse and single mother, raising her family in her childhood home after her parents’ deaths. Ricky’s only actual child was her 6-year-old daughter Sophie (Tina Majorino), but she was also the principal guardian to her teenage siblings, 16-year-old Brody (Jerry O’Connell) and 13-year-old Melissa (Meghann Haldeman). From the time their parents died, Ricky understood that she couldn’t change out of her persona as the “cool, approachable” older sister, and mixed parenting tactics in with the setting of a casual, laissez-faire household. In fact, the atmosphere in the Wilder house was so laid-back that many of Brody and Melissa’s friends sought it as a refuge from the stricter, more confining homes run by their traditional parents. Ricky thus welcomed them all in with open arms, and they regularly sat around the family’s kitchen table and dished about life’s various happenings and dilemmas, while Ricky helped them sort out their issues and dispensed sound advice in a non-judgmental, friend-like way. As a result, the neighborhood youth nicknamed their home “Camp Wilder.”
Got all that? Great. The show lasted 19 episodes. Jerry O’Connell’s in this? Weird. Anyway, I’m watching the first episode I found in a Google search, so here it is: a sitcom that nobody remembers and will never care about. Here’s some goddamn episode of Camp Wilder:
Season 1 Episode 10 – “Boy Loses Girl”
We open on two guys and a girl in a living room and she’s wearing a Blossom hat. Hey! Jay Mohr is one of these dudes! And there’s Jerry O’Connell! I guess Mohr is playing a teenager, which is weird because he’d be on SNL in just a few years. Anyway, he was found selling flowers on the side of the freeway and apparently this is something cult members did back in the 90s in LA. I didn’t know that but that’s what the dialogue says so I guess it must be true.
Everyone in this scene that has a career after this show, stand up! Not so fast, young lady.
Now here’s the lady that I guess is the owner of these people and Brody (O’Connell) wants a car and says mom and dad left us a fat inheritance so buy me a damn car! She says fuck off, and Jay Mohr’s character says sell roses with me on the freeway like a bum and Brody says where’s the money in that? Mohr says I don’t know, let me ask my accountant and then opens up his early 90s cellular phone. THEN TO THE CREDITS! And that was a very weird opening scene.
The credits open with a surfer inside the barrel of a wave and a pretty nifty surf guitar instrumental is the theme song. Since I love surf music I’m digging it, and the opening credits let us know that they’re in LA and that it’s the early 90s. I guess this is all supposed to be totally rad to the max since it’s an older sister taking care of her siblings and WHAAAAT? Hilary Swank is in this show! That’s crazy talk. Anyway, the credits end and my shock begins.
Now O’Connell apparently drives a Star Tours van giving tours to tourists of the star’s homes and they drive by Lucille Ball’s house and a wildly racist Asian stereotype guesses that it’s Charlie Brown’s and Brody here is losing it because he hates all of these foreigners that don’t speak English. Apparently the racist Asian stereotype watches Thirtysomething and Brody just starts making up stars’ homes as he drives. Asian Stereotype and A Frenchman jump out of the van and Brody tries to get the Asian stereotype back in the van by speaking in a racist Asian stereotype voice. Some girl that was in the car gets out and gets lost and it’s a goddamn disaster.
Somehow O’Connell’s career would have worse low points from here on out.
Meanwhile, Hilary Swank is on-screen and she’s very young in this and it’s weird to see such a big star appear on a sitcom from so long ago. Her character’s name is Danielle and she wants some mug that’s being used by the youngest daughter (I think it’s the oldest sister’s daughter, but everything’s kind of getting blended together in this show). The young girl faces off with her and that’s the end of that bit of business. Anyway, Jay Mohr’s character is being controlled by a cult and his last name is Dorkman and that’s that as well. Meanwhile, Brody comes through the door and everyone snarks their way through the scene like they’re having a good old-fashioned quip-off.
This show reminds me that Hollywood sitcom writers are wildly cynical people who have spent their lives watching TV, only to grow up and write TV shows based on the TV they spent their lives watching. It’s like a parody show from Bojack Horseman. I go on this tangent because I can’t really commit to what’s going on on-screen because it’s just a pile-on of quippy dialogue that doesn’t happen in real life. Turns out Brody lost a girl on the tour and Ricky (the grown-up around here, but she’s a woman so don’t get confused by the gendering of names, FASCIST!) tells him that he has to go find her. So the plot lurches forward.
Now Brody and Dorkman are driving around in the night looking for the girl that he lost literally hours ago and also why would he care? It’s not his fucking job to make sure people don’t get lost. BACK AT THE HOUSE, Hilary Swank is still trying to mess with the stupid little girl that wants to use her mug by giving her a fake mug in place of her real mug and wow, this is riveting. Meanwhile, Brody comes back and he’s found the girl and she was sleeping in Dom DeLuise’s gazebo. Also, the homeless girl now lives at Camp Wilder and goddamn, what is this show?
“Homeless person coming through! Watch out, the garbage is her supermarket!”
After commercial break, the homeless girl (is she mute?) is shoveling food into her mouth and Brody and his sister Melissa (who’s wearing a really cool beret) snark some more and she leaves and now Brody is trying to talk to this homeless girl and she’s kind of mean so I can see why she’s homeless. Yikes. What is this? The homeless girl looks kind of familiar to me and Brody is being an idiot by talking down to this homeless person and commenting on how she’s homeless because this apparently doesn’t make her a full-fledged human being.
Ricky pulls her brother aside and says hey man, we gotta get this street rat out of here. But Brody’s like I may have a live-in girlfriend here so let’s just let her stay, yes? Rick says no, let’s get the authorities involved. Bitch Melissa says she wishes she was homeless so she wouldn’t have to live in this gigantic house with all her needs met for free. Ricky feels guilty and Brody comes in again saying dammit, my homeless girlfriend’s bolted! Why am I so unappealing?
Later, Rick comes into Brody’s room and says hey we’re fine with the homeless girl bolting, right? Brody says yeah, I don’t care, and after she leaves Brody lets the homeless girl into his room through the window because I guess it’s free homeless sex for him. I notice that in his room he has a pretty sweet REM poster that I wish I had. A knock at the door has Brody hiding the homeless girl in a closet and Ricky comes in to apologize but sees that something’s suspicious because he’s cleaning his room. She leaves, the homeless girl comes back in, and then Ricky comes back in to talk further about this problem. Oh, the homeless girl’s name is Lydia. Brody is hiding her in his bed under the covers and this ruse lasts about 30 seconds.
See? It’s an Out of Time-era REM poster! I want it soooo bad!
Of course Lydia is found immediately. The homeless girl tries to say that she and Brody are in love and she wants to have his baby, so is Lydia mentally ill or something? Anyway, Brody says that he wants to help this homeless stranger and Ricky orders her out of her younger brother’s room because she’s probably a prostitute, right?
Later, downstairs, in another scene, Hilary Swank still wants her fucking mug back from the little girl and they bicker back and forth. Dorkman and the other sister Beth come in and I guess Beth is now a cult member along with him. Nobody cares, though, because the fewer faces to feed around here the better. Brody comes in later and says to Lydia hey good news! I completely sold you out and have the cops and your father coming here to destroy your scheme to get away from him! Is this Lea Thompson as the homeless girl? [Ed. note: I looked it up: it’s the woman who played Rayanne on My So-Called Life.] Anyway, Brody gives her the phone to call her father and she calls and we get one of those one-sided conversations that we always see on TV.
I guess things are fine and Lydia wasn’t running away from her molesting father but she’s just some girl that was just running away for kicks. Anyway, the conversation goes well and she seems emotionally bent from it and also the dad’s flying in from Dallas. She still looks like she hasn’t taken a shower, for some reason. The little girl gives Hilary Swank’s mug to her and that’s the end of that plot line. Meanwhile, Brody feels all great about helping another human being. Sure, Lydia called her dad and all is well. But probably not because Lydia didn’t call her dad and it was all a fucking ruse, you stupid assholes. Kids don’t run away from home usually because of a tiff but because something horrifying was happening back home. Brody loves denying reality so he goes out to look for her.
“You know, I’m gonna win an Oscar in like 13 years, so you can have the mug.”
Meanwhile, LATER, Brody is sitting outside in his van and Ricky comes out to talk and yeah, he didn’t find her, and who cares? Back to the not-home-having place from whence she came. Ricky comes in to tell some story about who knows what and then another story and Brody’s already heard all of them, dammit! Brody’s life lesson of the day ended up being “helping doesn’t help,” which is a good lesson for the burgeoning nihilist. Ricky gives him some garbage philosophy about how Brody’s a small light and with a bunch of lights together the world’s a better place. That’s great. Hooray. Let’s lead the parade of assholes down Self-Congratulatory Lane!
We fade in on the homeless girl still dirty-faced sitting in a diner taking a sip of coffee out of Hilary Swank’s mug. AND THAT’S THE END OF THE DAMN EPISODE!
This…actually wasn’t that bad. There was a surprising amount of talent on this little show that vanished from the airwaves quickly, featuring Hilary Swank (who was a supporting character but they gave a lot of screen time to–more than the sister characters, who were supposedly part of the main cast), Jay Mohr (who also got a lot of screen time), and Jerry O’Connell (who was the central character in this episode). With a few retools, this could have been a pretty solid sitcom: the writing was fairly sharp, the timing and delivery was good, and unlike a lot of TGIF shows, it didn’t cram a happy ending down everyone’s collective throat.
In this little project so far, this is the second-best TGIF show I’ve watched outside of Perfect Strangers. I dare say I’d even watch another episode–although by watching this single episode, I’ve already depleted 5% of the total shows aired of this series as a whole. If you want to watch a relatively obscure show–particularly one that aired on TGIF and wasn’t as syrupy-sweet as most shows that aired on that programming block–take a gander at Camp Wilder.
On a side-note, I honestly thought this was a sitcom starring Gene Wilder and only after reading the Wikipedia page and writing an opening paragraph to this where I discussed how much I loved Wilder’s work did I realize it was about an unaffiliated Wilder. Oh well. This was a lot more reassuring to realize that it wasn’t a failed sitcom starring Gene Wilder (of which he’d had at least one). This was pretty decent, which is high praise coming from mean old me indeed.