HBO’s ‘Camping’ isn’t worth staying indoors to watch

Posted at 7:41 AM, Oct 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-12 09:41:58-04

For those who have felt a void in the realm of TV self-absorption since “Girls” finished its run, “Camping,” from that show’s producers, might be the trip for you. Otherwise, this HBO adaptation of a British series, starring Jennifer Garner, makes a pretty good case for turning off the set and getting outdoors.

Adapted by the “Girls” team of Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner along with John Riggi, the eight-episode series delivers some amusing moments through the four previewed episodes, but feels too much like a “Portlandia” sketch awkwardly stretched into limited-series form.

“Camping” focuses on a group of friends, who assemble for an excursion to celebrate one of their birthdays. The gathering is orchestrated by Garner’s control-freak, overprotective mom, Kathryn, a classic wheatgerm-y type who quotes NPR and proudly informs the too-friendly park ranger that they’ve ordered the Groupon rate — four nights, for eight adults and one kid.

With a list of ailments and a rigidly planned schedule for the trip, Kathryn has largely overwhelmed her husband, Walt (David Tennant, adopting his Yankee accent), who admits to his friends that the two haven’t had sex in ages. But her meticulously kept activity roster is dealt a serious blow when one of Walt’s pals shows up with a new girlfriend, Jandice (Juliette Lewis), a New Age earth goddess who promptly strips down and wades into the lake, even though Kathryn’s itinerary doesn’t call for swimming until later in the week.

Well-cast with a talented ensemble, including Ione Skye, Brett Gelman and Chris Sullivan (“This is Us”), “Camping” largely hinges on the tension between the two central women, who couldn’t be more different in their approaches to life. Garner gamely plays up the neurotic aspects of her character, but comedy flows unevenly out of that dynamic and the colorfully coarse dialogue, and the personalities are too broadly drawn to be particularly interesting when it isn’t.

The writing does zero in on a particular kind of self-analytical voice, basically migrating the nagging concerns that dominated “Girls,” articulated by characters in their 20s, into the arena of motherhood and encroaching middle age.

The prevailing message, though, isn’t much of a breakthrough — namely, that we never stop having our doubts and misgivings, only that they morph and evolve as we advance further along the confusing road to adulthood.

The inherent truth of that theme, and the casting, ultimately don’t provide enough incentive to muster much enthusiasm for “Camping.” Even at the Groupon rate.

“Camping” premieres Oct. 14 at 10 p.m. on HBO.