×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Camping’ With Jennifer Garner

The series shows so little insight or movement that watching "Camping" becomes nearly as unpleasant as it is for the characters living through it.

There is an art to making comedy about irritating, self-involved, or even just flat-out terrible people. Sharp writing can make such characters wickedly funny, spitting jokes like acid that sting as hard as they land (see: “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”); it can peel back their defensive spiky layers to find surprising depth and tenderness hiding just underneath (see: “You’re the Worst”). But no matter what the approach, there has to be some dynamism in order to keep the story afloat, some glancing indication that the comedy’s got a little more to it than just showing off the depraved depths to which its characters could sink.

Camping,” apparently, missed this memo.

The new HBO series — from “Girls” creators Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, based on a series by British comedian Julia Davis — strands a group of deeply irritating people out in the woods together for eight episodes worth of misery. While they’re technically out there to celebrate Walt’s (David Tennant) birthday, they find themselves camping by a strictly regimented agenda as laid out in painstaking detail by his wife, Kathryn (Jennifer Garner), whose many surgeries and chronic pains have left her unwilling to leave much of anything up to chance.

It only takes a few minutes for her plan to unravel. Her meeker sister, Carleen (Ione Syke), and her sporadically sober husband  unexpectedly bring his surly teen daughter (Cheyenne Haynes). Walt’s brother, George (Brett Gelman), tries to help everyone have a good time, though he’s seemingly oblivious to the fact that his partner Nina-Joy (Janicza Bravo) is miserable being around Kathryn at all. (And not for nothing, the show seems oblivious to any personality traits Nina-Joy might have outside of her mysterious tension with Kathryn.) Meanwhile, their friend Miguel (Arturo Del Puerto) is dealing with a very messy and recent separation by having sex with a New Age hippie fling (Juliette Lewis) in almost every corner of the campsite.

Garner and Lewis in particular throw themselves into their parts, while recurring guests like Bridget Everett and Busy Philipps are welcome highlights. No matter how good the performers are, however, the story rarely gives their audience a compelling reason to get invested in the outcome of all its toxic chaos. After screening four episodes — fully half of the season — I still don’t know what the point of “Camping” is beyond tossing together some talented performers for the fun of it.

There are certainly some moments when Dunham and Konner show off their skill for depicting self-absorption circa 2018, especially when Kathryn tries to push everyone into becoming part of her Instagram #brand and Nina-Joy stumbles upon a campsite of drawling Los Angeles influencers (led by Philipps in a telltale wide-brimmed hat). Occasionally, Garner manages to find another gear in Kathryn’s high-strung anxiety, revealing how her longstanding health issues have shaped her insecurity and fear. But for the most part, the series wastes its potential, showing so little insight or movement that watching “Camping” becomes nearly as unpleasant as it is for the characters living through it.

Comedy, 30 mins. (8 episodes; four reviewed.) Premieres Sunday, Oct.14 at 10 pm on HBO.

Cast: Jennifer Garner, David Tennant, Ione Skye, Arturo Del Puerto, Brett Gelman, Janicza Bravo, Cheyenne Haynes, Duncan Joiner, Juliette Lewis.

Crew: Executive producers: Lena Dunham, Jenni Konner, John Riggi, Julia Davis, Christine Langan, Ilene S. Landress, Tom Lassally, Adam Countee.

TV Review: 'Camping' With Jennifer Garner

More TV

  • GOTHAM: L-R: Guest star Cameron Monaghan

    TV News Roundup: Fox Drops 'Gotham' Final Season Trailer (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Fox released a new trailer for an upcoming episode of “Gotham” and Disney has announced the cast for its upcoming “High School Musical” series.  FIRST LOOKS Showtime released a new trailer and the official poster for the upcoming fourth season of “Billions,” premiering March 17 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. In [...]

  • Chris Rock

    Chris Rock to Direct Kenan Thompson Comedy Pilot at NBC

    Chris Rock has come onboard to direct the NBC single-cam comedy pilot “Saving Kenan,” Variety has learned. Rock will also executive produce the pilot, which stars “SNL” mainstay Kenan Thompson. Thompson will play a newly widowed dad determined to be everything for his kids while begrudgingly letting his persistent father-in-law become more involved in their lives [...]

  • Peak TV Saturation TV Placeholder

    Apollo Global Management Buys Majority Stake in Cox TV Stations

    Private equity giant Apollo Global Management has cut a deal with Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises to buy a majority stake in Cox’s 13 TV stations as well as three newspapers and a handful of radio stations in Ohio. Apollo has been in the hunt for broadcast TV stations for some time. Cox’s station group, which includes [...]

  • Ken Jeong TV Take Podcast

    Listen: Ken Jeong on His Return to Stand-Up and New Netflix Special

    Welcome to “TV Take,” Variety’s television podcast. In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Daniel Holloway, talks with Ken Jeong about his Netflix comedy special, “Ken Jeong: You Complete Me, Ho,” and being a judge on Fox’s “The Masked Singer.“ Jeong started working on his new standup act after ABC canceled his show “Dr. [...]

  • "Brother" -- Episode 201-- Pictured (l-r):

    CBS Interactive's Marc DeBevoise on Streaming Boom, Content Strategy, and Apple

    Not everyone wants or needs to be Netflix to succeed in the streaming space. And not everyone sees Apple’s enigmatic new service as a threat. Even as rival streaming services offer gobs of content, CBS Interactive’s president and COO Marc DeBevoise sees the company’s targeted original programming strategy continuing to attract viewers to its All [...]

  • Ken Jeong to Star in CBS

    Ken Jeong to Star in CBS Comedy Pilot From 'Crazy Rich Asians' Author Kevin Kwan

    A “Crazy Rich Asians” reunion is happening at CBS. Ken Jeong has been cast in a lead role in the multi-camera comedy pilot “The Emperor of Malibu,” which is being co-written and executive produced by “Crazy Rich Asians” author Kevin Kwan. In the series, Auggie, the son of a Chinese tech billionaire, announces his engagement [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content