'Camping' episode 1 review: Jennifer Garner's Kathryn is obsessive, compulsive and not easily relatable
In spite of Jennifer Garner and David Tennant's faltering chemistry, 'Camping' is a show which speaks volumes about people.
HBO has released the first episode of Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner's new comedy 'Camping', and although the chemistry between the two leading stars, Jennifer Garner and David Tennant, is somewhat faltering yet the show brings out certain traits that are solely exclusive to the genre of comedy. Garner plays the obsessively compulsive, uptight Kathryn who is busy arranging a weekend camping trip with three other couples for her husband, Walt's (played by Tennant) 45th birthday.
However, as every Dunham story goes, Kathryn is barely aware of the heap of mismanaged incidents that are going to interfere with her otherwise organized camping trip at Brown Bear Lake campsite. The pilot episode did the job of introducing the members on the campsite, including the lesbian couple who look after the area, and Kathryn is just thrust in the middle of all of it. From welcoming people whom she did not want to be present at the campsite, to handling a gun so that her son would not go near it, things have been falling apart for Kathryn since the very beginning.
'Girls' creator, Dunham, had earlier reflected upon the fact that Kathryn would in many ways embody her own physical ailments following her own hysterectomy. In the first episode, other than her jiggly gait, Kathryn's concern about her dysfunctional pelvic floor clearly indicates that Dunham has once again thrust her own bodily shortcomings onto her character. Kathryn drives Walt to steal the mattresses from the other tents, and when Walt asks her if its fair for other people that they don't get any mattress at all, Kathryn snaps at him claiming that he wouldn't want his wife to spend the rest of the weekend with a dysfunctional pelvic floor.
Kathryn certainly came across as a character who is selfish in the first glance and clearly has no regard for the people around her. However, if looked at closely there might be some good reasons for Kathryn to be that way. Towards the middle of the episode, she also reveals that she has gone through a hysterectomy just two years after her son was born, and although she does mention that after his birth she had to remove her uterus and ovaries, she thought that it was totally worth the time. As the conversation stems up from Jandice (played by Juliette Lewis) claiming that vitamins were only a way for the companies to make money, it reveals one thing about Kathryn that whatever the woman does, she is genuine.
A hysterectomy can be a painful process and since Dunham herself has gone all the way with it, it was probably easier for her to write Kathryn under the same light. Kathryn might appear to be dominating beyond endurance and sometimes quite selfish, unnecessarily. However, as Dunham has always done with her characters, Kathryn is a person difficult to like. She isn't someone who would jump into the pool at the first chance, or would just walk about in the woods without any plans in her head. Instead, she would organize things according to her convenience, and a lot like Hannah in 'Girls', Kathryn thinks that she cares for everyone else by being so freakishly controlling.
Kathryn was genuinely hurt when she came to know that her friend hadn't informed her about her separation from her husband, and she was even more anxious when she realized that all her other friends knew about it. In a scene, Kathryn tells Walt while they are fixing their own tents, "I can't believe Margaret didn't call me...I am the person people call, people come to me. I am their soft place to fall, I am their touchstone." These are the exact things that matter to Kathryn, she likes being wanted, taking up responsibilities and then fulfilling them by her own means. Maybe that is a selfish affair, but if we look at the people around Kathryn maybe it is good that she is the organized one.
While 'Camping' has been addressed to be like a show which has no basic elements to sustain its comic taste, Dunham has once again managed to put up a show about a character who is not easily relatable. All of us are Kathryn at times, we all like to take things in our own hands, be responsible, and of course, we would all love to be paid heed to while talking. That is exactly what Kathryn looks for, and maybe it is also justified on her part because she is a person who suffers from chronic illness and is physically not capable of leading an impulsive life. While Kathryn stands in one corner as an uptight woman, Lewis' Jandice stands on the other side of the spectrum.
Kathryn and Jandice have clearly not started off on a very friendly note. While Kathryn likes to keep things as planned, Jandice is more of someone who takes life with whatever it has to offer. Jandice doesn't mind running naked into the lake in front of everyone, while Kathryn stood on the bank asking everyone to keep an eye on her since she is the only certified lifeguard there. As a DJ, Reiki healer, and a model for a figure sketching class, Jandice is someone that everyone would love to hang around with; she is the life of the party, and people are all smiles when they are around her. However, that is not the case with Kathryn.
While Lewis is absolutely spectacular as the Reiki healer, Jandice's inclusion into the story and people's subsequent reactions to whatever she does is a clear portrayal of how much we love the appearance than what is actually on the inside. Although Kathryn is a woman who clearly cannot have fun, she does things to keep everyone safe and at her convenience. She is uptight, goosy and insecure, but at the end of the day, she is someone who takes the call since she holds all the resources. Dunham has very subtly placed Kathryn amidst people who are nothing like her, and still need her for a great many things.
'Camping' might not be the ultimate show to evoke laughter, but it used comedy in just the right amount to illustrate people's tendency to incline towards the better "looking". Better "looking" does not necessarily have to be about how a person looks, and in 'Camping' it is certainly about how a person is represented. Kathryn is annoying at times, and we can be sure that we will probably hate her even more but that in a way depicts our own intolerance towards someone who is different from us. Unlike her friends, Kathryn is not spontaneous and maybe that is due to the many physical ailments that she suffers from but at the same time, even her friends do not take her for the way she is. 'Camping' is probably not just another show on TV, it might grow into something more.