Julia Pott’s Summer Camp Island is all about escaping into the kinds of magical fantasies that are easiest to conjure in one’s mind when you’re young and only just starting to crave time away from the stresses of everyday life. It’s nice to be able to luxuriate in the things that make you happy, like your friends or enchanted ice cream.
To be quite straight with you here, the world’s in a state of disarray at the moment and for the next few days (if not weeks), television will be a means through which people consume unhealthy amounts of content and news likely to raise their blood pressures. With that in mind, it’s important to remember to take time to zone out, breathe, and focus on things that bring you whatever joy they can bring. We suggest taking a few moments to sit down and check out some of Summer Camp Island’s most relaxing episodes.
At a time when it’s quite easy to sink into an existential malaise that makes everything feel as if it’s devoid of meaning, “Feeling Spacey” hits particularly hard. Oscar and Hedgehog find themselves transported to a planet full of improbably cute alien creatures who have lost their ability to feel emotions. The aliens’ plans to drain Oscar and Hedgehog of their feelings in order to steal them are horrific, but the aliens’ earnest desire to experience love and happiness again is every bit as heartwarming as the pair’s conviction that they can help the aliens without being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.
Between being a self-centered witch (literally) and an overbearing camp counselor, Susie’s reputation for being something of a bully on Summer Camp Island is well-earned. But behind her aggressive, often frosty demeanor, Susie’s just as much of an emotional baby as the campers she so often antagonizes. That becomes abundantly apparent during her annual 15th birthday party, where she insists on being made to believe that she has friends who like her despite the reality that everyone’s afraid of her.
When Puddle and the King pop down to Summer Camp Island to live with Oscar for an indeterminate amount of time, things start off fine but quickly turn sour; Oscar realizes that the aliens don’t understand the concept of overstaying one’s welcome. Despite their earliest interactions revolving around the aliens wanting to rob Oscar and Hedgehog of their emotions, “Space Invasion” works as a reminder that it can be good to forgive friends for mistakes they’ve made in the past while also understanding that in some cases, people’s behavior only changes but so much.
Rather than being upset when she catches them attempting to steal food from her private function in “The Great Elf Invention Convention,” Barb Goldberg (Whoopi Goldberg) instead invites Oscar, Hedgehog, and their friend Max to supervise a competition between Barb’s three brilliant daughters Bernadette, Ethel (Wanda Sykes), and Barb Jr. (Carol Kane). Much as Summer Camp Island’s magic revolves around Oscar and Hedgehog’s adventures, this episode gives the show’s supporting characters some much-needed interiority.
Talented as Hedgehog is, by the time she’s ready to take the first test that’ll determine whether she’s got the innate skills necessary to become a witch, she hits her first major roadblock. It just so happens to come in the form of an intensely distracting crush. Though the island’s witches put Hedgehog through more than her fair share of difficulties, she can’t deny that she wants to learn magic for herself as part of her grander life plan to one day to win a Nobel prize. The episode’s messages about being honest with one’s self about your feelings are solid enough on their own, but the episode’s real magic lies in the song Hedgehog sings to herself whenever her crush crosses her mind.
Just as a local group of acorns are graduating to their next stage of life, Hedgehog finds that while her time learning magic under Betsy was deeply empowering, studying under Susie’s far more stressful. Her new teacher has an unfortunate fondness for passive aggression. “Acorn Graduation” is the rare episode of Summer Camp Island that sees one of its core heroes openly express their frustration with people who are hostile toward them, as the show tends to be relatively chill for the most part. But the episode’s a good change of pace with an important message about the power of challenging bullies head-on when they wanna start mess with you.
After establishing how Puddle and the Alien King feel about one another early on in the series, “We’ll Just Move the Stars” follows in both Steven Universe and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power’s footsteps by taking the two same sex-coded beings’ relationship to the next level in a decidedly queer way. Heteronormative a concept as marriage is, it’s something Puddle and the King both deeply want for themselves. The two could have gotten married, were it not for the incompatibility of their astrological signs. It’s a problem that prompts them, Hedgehog, and Oscar to journey into space in search of a cosmic solution.
Barb being the island’s most famous and respected inventor also means that more than a few people—like rough and tumble Harry and gentle soul Barry—have considered proposing. When Harry and Barry both decide that they’re ready to pop the question, Barb understands she can’t simply build an invention to help her figure out which of the men she should take as her husband. But as Barb, Oscar, and Hedgehog attempt to figure out whether Harry or Barry is Barb’s best choice to marry, Summer Camp Island ends up telling a different sort of story about how one can’t really engineer their way through love.
Being the liberal millennial that she is, it’s only a matter of time before Hedgehog decides it’s high time she starts a podcast to delight her fellow campers with fun scientific facts. When her show is hijacked by Oscar’s sentient pajamas, their ratings go through the roof in a way that Hedgehog appreciates to an extent, but can’t help but feel as if the show is drifting away from her original vision. “Tumble Dry Low” ends up being a story about how, sometimes, you have to level with your friends and tell them to stay in their own lanes, something everyone needs to be reminded of every now and then.
As the series has progressed, the show’s gradually introduced subplots about supporting characters that emphasize how everyone lives in a world of their own where their focus is dominated by whatever sorts of life changes they happen to be personally experiencing. At the same time that Hedgehog works with both Susie and Betsy to become a witch, Susie begrudgingly works to become a more understanding friend, and Betsy works to become comfortable enough with herself to share her inner truth with her closest friends. “Just You and Me” gets properly heavy in a way that’s somewhat uncommon for Summer Camp Island, which is exactly why it’s an episode worth checking out as you give the show a go, whether you’re new to it or a longtime fan.
Summer Camp Island is now streaming on HBO Max
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