Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner's latest show 'Camping' has generated quite the buzz ever since the show received a full season order, however, unfortunately, critics haven't been too kind about it. While most have claimed that Jennifer Garner's character, Kathryn, who is the protagonist of the show is absolutely "unlikable" probably it is time to speculate over what actually makes the show, including Kathryn, "likable". That's right, the show is as real as it could get.
Coming from the former 'Girls' creator, 'Camping' is based on the 2016 Sky Atlantic mini-series of the same title which was directed by Julia Davis. It follows Kathryn, an uptight, obsessively controlling wife and mother, who plans for a weekend camping trip to celebrate her husband Walt's (played by David Tennant) 45th birthday. However, things go absolutely berserk when an uninvited free-spirited hippie, Jandice (played by Juliette Lewis) shows up on the campsite and puts her plans into disarray, much to Kathryn's dismay. Other than Jandice, there are also Walt's friends, Joe, Miguel, and George who are equally the flower child as Jandice but seem to be as submissive as Walt when it comes to dealing with Kathryn.
Although it might seem that all these characters tend to revolve around Kathryn and her panicking paranoia, it cannot be the ultimate factor in a show created by a director as versatile as Lena Dunham. Dunham's former show 'Girls' had received a similar response from critics for not showcasing the undying bond of friendship between women, but eventually, Hannah, who was the protagonist of the show, turned out to be a millennial defining character, specifically with all the follies in her. The similar can be said about Kathryn, but it can also be said about the other characters.
Both Dunham and Konner have taken care of the fact that none of the characters get left behind when it comes to storytelling. Consider Jandice. This beatnik horror who seems to be born right out of a Flower Mother is an absolute opposite to the protagonist, which in a way also makes her the antagonist. Jandice runs on a parallel level with Kathryn, and sometimes it seems that the character can totally have a show of her own. Speaking with UpRoxx, Lewis had confessed, "You know, with Jandice, I would have wanted to learn different things about her as well, but there’s such an art to this type of this comedy, a 30-minute show, and having it be so character-rich."
While it is true that Jandice is quite the power-pack addition to the bucket of characters, she also helps push the plot forward, in a way acting as the catalyst. We will see in the second episode, which is set to release on October 21, that Jandice pushes Kathryn's son, Orvis by mistake and later leads the rest of the gang to a nearby bar where they feast on some jelly-donut shots. Clearly, all of this will demand some reaction from Kathryn, which again will be resulting in catastrophe. Other than Jandice, Nina-Joy (played by Janicza Bravo) also tags along to the bar at the time when Kathryn is clearly in need of her friends. Nina-Joy is probably that one character who can stamp down Kathryn anytime she wants.
Ever since her arrival at the campsite, Joy has been pretty cynical about Kathryn and her whereabouts. She doesn't seem to take much interest in the camp itself, and so her presence at that very site creates an unconfirmed relief around the show. We all get a little tired with Kathryn lashing out at people all the time, and Joy's indifference towards it all is somewhat refreshing. She doesn't really care much about what Kathryn's rules are but still follows them as quietly as possible. Clearly, there is something that needs to be known about Joy and we still don't know what that is. However, it can be expected that the revelation of Joy's continuous indifference towards Kathryn will reveal quite a lot about their dynamics.
While Jandice and Joy are like a blow to Kathryn's controlling demeanor (and these two characters will clearly not abide by her rules), Ione Skye's character Carleen is like a breath of fresh air...to, Kathryn. As the protagonist's sister, Carleen is just as submissive as Walt and ever since she has walked into the campsite she seems to be struggling to get things right around Kathryn. There are certainly times when she voices her opinion but immediately shuts down for fear of making Kathryn even angrier. Both Carleen and Kathryn do not see eye to eye, but Carleen seems to be the only character other than Walt who truly understands Kathryn.
Much of Kathryn's ill-temper is the result of the physical discomfort which has stemmed out of her chronic illness. In the first episode, we also saw her breaking the rules to get some extra mattresses to her tent in order to help her sleep at night. She also reveals that vitamins have kept her alive ever since she underwent a hysterectomy. This is probably something Carleen is aware of since they both are sisters, and maybe that is why she follows Kathryn in whatever she does. Speaking about her character, Skye said in the same interview as Lewis, "Carleen’s trying to be helpful, but to the point, [her] sort-of low self-esteem and meekness is like aggravating, almost seemingly passive-aggressive, which I don’t think I am, but she’s trying so hard to just figure out her sister and help her."
With all these women around her, Kathryn might seem to be in the center but these very women are the ones who help shape her character. Dunham and Konner are known to portray women in their most real and rawest sense. They have always done away with the fictional glitter that usual hovers around the stereotypical female characters and they have placed them under the same radar the male characters. In 'Camping' they have presented every single female character with the same rawness as they had done in 'Girls', and watching women in their truest forms without any decoration is truly satisfying.