HBO’s “Camping” Review: Harry the Lesbian is the Only Likable Character on a Show Full of Dillholes

It’s almost impossible these days to sum up the fullness of a TV show — plot, characters, mood, writing, etc. — in a single sentence, but I can do it with HBO’s new Jennifer Garner-helmed series: Camping is an American adaptation of the same-named British comedy about a group of married Gen-Xers who spend a weekend being jerks in the woods, executive produced by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner. (I felt you shiver!) Camping also features a lesbian campsite director named Harry, played by Bridget Everett, who refers to herself as “daddy” and refers to her gun as “my piece” and refers to her wife as “the ass that slaps back” and isn’t a doctor but doesn’t mind stitching up a fallen camper, or letting an eleven-year-old take over the needle and thread when she gets bored.

Lots of critics are saying Camping is really just Girls on a ranch — but two things that make that untrue. Number one, there are actually people of color in the main cast. Number two, these dillholes aren’t entitled, self-involved 25-year-olds who have no grasp of the world outside of Brooklyn. What makes critics juxtapose Camping and Girls (besides Dunham) is that the main protagonists are thoroughly unlikable, deeply narcissistic women. Don’t get me wrong: None of Kathryn and Walt’s friends are chill, fun pals; they’re just not as insufferable or unwatchable as the characters on Girls.

There’s no TVs or wifi out here so I hope that bider’s full of fan ficiton.

To wit: Garner’s character, Kathryn, has planned this trip amongst friends to celebrate her husband Walt’s birthday. She brings her own kid, but tries to send her sister home with her step-daughter because the e-vite clearly stated that no children are allowed. She has a compromised pelvic floor due to a hysterectomy (“I almost died; vitamins saved my life”) so she takes everyone else’s mattress pads before they arrive. She wants to make up with one of her friends she’s hurt, but really what she wants to do is pose together with some bacon by the campfire and snap an Insta pic. She refuses to budge on her itinerary, which she obviously keeps in an enormous three-ring binder. She gossips about one of their friends leaving her husband and is furious to find out everyone else already knows. Also she shoots her friend in the dark with a BB gun because he sounds like a bear. (He’s just having sex with Juliette Lewis’ Jandice; the funniest character in the pilot).

Anyway, it’s way less like Girls and way more like The Big Chill meets UK’s The Office. It would appear that everyone is going to get worse and worse, that everyone’s shit will ultimately be laid bare, and that an actual bear will wreak havoc and someone with one of Harry’s much-proffered BB guns will save the day. Everyone’s there, in their own way, for Waly (played dorkily by David Tennant, by the way) and they’re just trying to deal with the fact that he’s married to a woman they all hate.

Something in the air. Something’s coming. A storm’s approaching…

Harry is genuinely the most enjoyable character on the show. “A fun-loving, larger-than-life sweetheart,” is how Everett described her to Out. The only likable character in a cast of very unlikable characters, which, I admit, is a nice change of pace. It’s also neat to see a character made from Melissa McCarthy’s Bridesmaids mold revealed as an actual lesbian, and not a coded one. And while her nonchalance and general disregard for any kind of safety or rules is going to surely make Harry a foe for Kathryn throughout the season, the main problem with Harry is that she’s just not around enough to make up for everyone else’s assholery.

Did you watch Camping? What did you think? If you want to keep up with Harry, you’ll find season-long updates in our weekly TV roundup column, Boobs on Your Tube.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 835 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. So I saw the trailer and I just don’t understand the timeline – does the whole series take place during this weekend camping trip? How long is the series? I already know I’m not going to watch it because I cant handle the sympathetic embarrassment I get watching those sorts of unlikable characters. But I’m still curious.

  2. I looked up the British version of this because I hadn’t heard of it before. Turns out the same people made a new series starting next week called Sally4Ever about a woman who has a lesbian affair! I am excited but also slightly weirded out.

  3. I haven’t yet seen the show, but I read an interesting review/interview with Garner and Konner about how Garner’s character is really a woman with chronic pain and how this experience of continuous long-term pain has corroded her personality and affected her behavior. (This is to be explored over the course of the show, apparently.) I thought that was fascinating and also a great way to highlight women chronic-pain sufferers! So for that reason, I’m willing to give it a shot.

  4. Ouch. Watching the pilot was an experience of chronic pain.

    I agree with everything you’ve said.

    Maybe a different lead might have worked better. I just have zero empathy for Jennifer Garner. I’m trying to come up with a likeable alternative: Octavia Spencer, Jane Krakowski, Zosia Mamet, Bebe Neuwirth…

    Wait, I’ve got it: Melanie Scrafano. I can see her stealing everyone’s mattresses and finding it funny.

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