TV Tryouts – Summer Camp Island & Hilda

There is so much television I hear I should watch and with 24/7 streaming services abounding it can quickly become overwhelming. To finally get a taste of all these great shows I will start doing TV Tryouts. Each month I will watch a couple of pilot episodes of series I have been hearing rave reviews about and see if that first episode can hook me to keep watching. Now, an argument you might make is that you have to view the first six or entire first season before a show “gets good.” To that, I say, “I just don’t have the time.” A television series should have strong enough writing that its characters, dialogue, and plot naturally compel me to keep watching. If it doesn’t, then that’s ok, plenty of shows for everyone.

Summer Camp Island (Cartoon Network)
Season 1 – Episode 1 “The First Day”
Story by Julia Pott, Jack Pendarvis, and Kent Osborne
Written & Directed by Sam Alden, Graham Falk, and Adam Muto

Oscar and his best friend Hedgehog are dropped off on Summer Camp Island to spend their school break. As soon as the parents leave, the counselors are revealed to be witches (friendly ones), and the campers learn cute monsters populate the island, and that inanimate objects can talk. Creator Julia Pott was an animator and staff writer on the phenomenal Adventure Time and has brought her sensibilities to this new project. In an interview with Animation World Network Pott explained her inspirations which range from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Charlie Brown. I can see those influences woven throughout the pilot with the friendly witch counselors and our anxious protagonist Oscar evoking Charlie Brown’s mental health issues.

The premise of the pilot is that Oscar wants to have a sleepover in his cabin with Hedgehog because he is feeling so out of place in this strange magical world. Hedgehog is an anchor to help him feel at ease. However, their sleepover is seen as a party and a bunch of fellow campers as well as the native monsters show up to celebrate. Pott and her team of creators take a very relatable experience, the fear & anxiety associated with that first time spending the night away from home. There is also the jealousy kids feel when they enter a new social group with a close friend and see their friend developing relationships with those other people while Pott surrounds her characters with absolutely cute and adorable imagery her stories on grounded in very genuine life experiences for kids.

As far as a TV Tryout, I’m definitely in to watch the entirety of this first season. This first episode is establishing the premise and exists purely as a one-off. I do wonder if, like Adventure Time, larger narrative arcs will develop. This does not have the epic potential that Adventure Time hinted at in its beginnings, which isn’t a bad thing. Summer Camp Island is a very cozy show, with the sense of potential in exploring the world. It doesn’t have the sometimes whiplash speed of comedy as a show like The Amazing World of Gumball, but it shares DNA in being tightly focused on an eclectic group of characters.

Hilda (Netflix)
Season 1 – Episode 1 “Chapter 1: The Hidden People”
Written by Stephanie Simpson
Directed by Andy Coyle

Hilda is a little girl who spends her days exploring the countryside reminiscent of rural Scandinavia with her pet deerfox Twig. This world is one where both children and their parents accept the existence of rock trolls and forest giants and invisible elves. This opening episode focuses on the conflict between Hilda and those invisible elves who happen to live all around the property where Hilda and her mother reside. Our protagonist learns that the new prime minister of the elves campaigned on running Hilda and her mother off the property and is stuck having to fulfill this promise. I was struck immediately by how this children’s show had such a relevant and urgent plot.

Based on a British series of graphic novels created by Luke Pearson, Hilda is a work inspired by Scandinavian myths and folklore. I was reminded of the Dutch writer Rien Pooertvliet who authored the book Gnomes, which served as inspiration for the cartoon David the Gnome. Pooertvliet approached the folklore surrounding Gnomes as an anthropologist or zoologist, writing about them as living breathing organisms. He described spent pages detailing the taxonomy and habits of these beings, and in turn, Hilda acts very scientifically when approaching the fantastic elements in her world. She takes multiple sketches of the dormant rock troll in the opening of the pilot episode, and I could immediately see the nod to the illustrations of Will Huygen in Gnomes as mentioned earlier.

I am enthusiastically looking forward to continuing Hilda. This is structured as one piece of a multi-part story with future characters and plots hinted at. Hilda comes across large footprints in the forest and later, spies a massive creature peeking over the distant mountains. The conflict with the elves is not entirely resolved by the end of the first episode, which makes me want to see how this plays out and how the show develops its themes of intolerance and mixed communities. There’s a larger narrative that is seeded in this first part, and I expect it will end being something exceptional.

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