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Television Review

‘Camp’ woe, be gone

Rachel Griffiths and Charles Grounds play mother and son in NBC’s new “Camp.”

Vince Valitutti/NBC

Rachel Griffiths and Charles Grounds play mother and son in NBC’s new “Camp.”

Oh Rachel Griffiths, what’s up? The Australian actress who broke through in America with “Muriel’s Wedding” and got an Oscar nomination for “Hilary and Jackie” was unforgettable as Brenda in “Six Feet Under.” She was compelling as the crazily intense child of two psychiatrists who had a crazily intense relationship with her crazily intense brother. Now, after slumming on the classy soap “Brothers & Sisters,” Griffiths is indulging in some wacky time-wasting on a feeble new series, “Camp.” It’s hard to watch her in talent-idle mode on the show, which premieres Wednesday night at 10.

She plays Mackenzie “Mack” Granger, the owner of Little Otter Camp whose husband has just left her for a younger woman. She’s frazzled and struggling to keep the camp running, while taking care of her horny teen son, Buzz (Charles Grounds). She’s also having sex with the owner of a competing camp, even though she can’t stand him. Everything about her character is thoroughly predictable, not least of all that she fails to notice how her handyman, Cole (Nikolai Nikolaeff) has a crush on her. And Griffiths seems to submit to all the mediocrity, resigned. It’s really too bad.

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Actually, it’s “Superbad,” too. Most of the show is about the kids, of course, each of whom seems to be living out a plotline we’ve already seen a million times. So Buzz does the “Superbad” thing, vowing that he will have sex before the end of the summer. Is there a hoarier teen-boy story in the book of coming-of-age banalities? Naturally, we get the requisite drugstore scene, in which Buzz goes into town to buy condoms. Also in the “Camp” mix of overused story lines: a clutch of catty girls as well as a pretty girl who prefers a geeky boy to the more dashing ones. Did someone ask for a love triangle? Counselors Robbie (Tim Pocock) and Sarah (Dena Kaplan) usually spend their summers at camp as a couple, but this year she is flirting with a famous writer who lives on the lake.

It is possible for an ensemble of actors to overcome a lousy script, but that doesn’t happen on “Camp.” The show, from Liz Heldens and Peter Elkoff, is too crowded with clichés to leave any room for finesse. I understand that “Camp” is aiming to be light summer fun, but that’s no excuse for putting ABC Family plots in a blender and serving up a watery gazpacho. The writers also try to insert a few lessons along the way, including a bit about a bad word that offends a girl with two fathers. Those moments are as subtle as that other slinger of lessons, “Glee,” which is to say not subtle at all.

“Camp” takes a strange approach to family entertainment, which may be why NBC is airing it at 10 p.m. While the campers — as well as some of the adults, including Mack — are pretty innocent, some of the dialogue is adult — not funny, but aimed at older viewers. I’m thinking in particular of a line involving Gene Simmons. When the characters are doing the inevitable sitting around the bonfire, maybe one of the actors can accidentally use the scripts as fuel?

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.
Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.
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