When WWE promised to bring more adult content to the network, I bet this isn’t what fans had in mind. This isn’t the return of barbed wire and blading that ECW or Attitude Era devotees have been hoping for. Rather, this is the Network’s attempt to cash in on the ever lucrative cartoon for adults market that sees students and shift workers zoning out whilst eating bowls of cereal at 11pm at night.
Camp WWE is the greatest summer camp in the universe, according to owner and proprietor Vincent Kennedy McMahon. It is the summer home for all of your favourite pint-sized WWE Superstars. John Cena, Stone Cold, The Bella Twins, even The Undertaker. Stephanie McMahon is the self-absorbed, obnoxious, rich, spoilt brat head camp counsellor along with her boyfriend, braindead jock Triple H; while Ric Flair and Sgt. Slaughter are the overly enthusiastic – and in Ric’s case the overly amorous – head instructors.
The opening episode is an introduction to the camp and all of its main players. The plot is as simple a tale as the setting could offer. John Cena is homesick and Vince wants him cured before the contagion spreads and he infects the other campers. He sets his ruthless daughter and her clueless boyfriend on the job after The Nature Boy fails. It does a good job at introducing you to the kind of humour you can expect from the series, while establishing how this world differs from the real one.
Most importantly, is Camp WWE funny? Yes, in parts. The humour is pure Vince, puerile, crass and always a little bit over the line. For every genuine joke that blindsides you with a giggle, there are three or four times Ric Flair puts his pecker somewhere he shouldn’t. Where this series’ real joy comes from though, is in how it adapts the WWE’s mythology into its cartoon setting. Flair and Slaughter are particular winners, being exactly the kind of over-the-top, exaggerated versions of themselves you tuned in wanting them to be.
Vince has the biggest laughs, but is also overused. He’s the Peter Griffin or the Homer Simpson of this show, but his personality is so big he really should be the Roger or the Alien or the Dale Gribble. His use needs to be sparse, brought out so he can liven up a lagging plot or hit the audience with a belly laugh at the right time. Also, as owner he needs only concern himself with the major issues of the camp and remain as an omnipotent but unseen presence most of the time.
Other issues I have with character adaptations have to do with some of the senior members of the WWE roster being on the same level as talent like Dean Ambrose, The Bella Twins or R-Truth. Does The Undertaker have to be weird gothy kid? Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to be the scary grounds keeper everyone is afraid of? Or Big Show would make a good instructor too. And why are they using the conspiracy theory R-Truth? He hasn’t used that persona since 2012.
Maybe it’s the fanboy in me, but I have a very rigid idea of WWE hierarchy. Steph and HHH are right on the money as counsellors. It fits their current status perfectly. But having locker room leaders like Show and Taker in positions of subservience to them? That’s not right. Legends like them should be on the same rung of the ladder as Slaughter and Flair. Also, there are loads of kids, but hardly any counsellors. The balance seems off. More counsellors would create a volatile power dynamic, giving the camp an Us vs. Them control struggle between the kids and teenagers, adding some much needed substance to the thin concept. Guys like Jericho or Shawn Michaels would be great for a role like that.
The biggest problem facing the show however, is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. If it is an edgy, adult comedy then where’s the edge? These jokes don’t have any of Family Guy’s social commentary or South Park’s satire. They are literally the same kinds of joke you would find in a kid’s Saturday morning cartoon show but with inappropriate humour. Plus, the plot is the precisely the kind you would expect in an episode of Horrid Henry or Peppa Pig, with exactly the same unironic moral lesson to be learned in the end. Who tuned into see a raunchy comedy and learn that it’s ok to be homesick sometimes?
John Cena being the main protagonist of the episode should be a red flag that at one point the show was designed to be watched by kids and kids alone. Adult WWE fans don’t care a jot about him. Why make him the main character when it could have been Stone Cold? He’s got a bright personality in this show and his legendary anti-authority attitude would have put him in direct conflict with the camp’s officials. Hopefully the show will change perspectives from week to week; the next episode is called ‘Not Without My Eyebrow’ so there is hope the The Rock will be front and centre. There is a guy whose attitude era persona would do well in a show like this.
Ultimately, Camp WWE is trying to have its cake and eat it. It is trying to be both Rugrats and Brickleberry, the Disney Channel and Adult Swim. It’s like they were half way through making a straight kids show, but after Slam City flopped they went in a different direction. Imagine that, WWE losing faith in a creative vision because something went wrong somewhere else along the way.
There is some fun to be had spotting the references and the in-jokes (the path to the camp is Dusty Road and Vince calls faking a leg injury a “work”) and there are some laughs to be had, especially the ones in tune with the character’s personalities, but as of right now this programme feels half baked. It is a cheaply produced show where the concept and the script could have used a couple more drafts. It has potential, and there is every chance it could settle down soon, but as of this moment, I’m not adding an extra half-hour of WWE programming to my Monday nights.
Creator: Seth Green
Cast: Ric Flair, Vince McMahon, Robert Remus
Prd: Seth Green, Vince McMahon, Paul Levesque
Runtime: 22 minutes per episode