“Series 7” is one of the most devastating satires of American pop culture ever conceived, a vicious and dark look at “reality TV” — and, by extension, our society’s obsession with everyone getting their 15 minutes of fame.
The film is set up as a marathon of an entire season of “The Contenders” (it’s the show’s seventh year, hence the title), a TV show in which six strangers are chosen at random, put in an American city, and told to kill each other. The last one alive becomes the champion and returns the next season to face five new opponents.
The reigning champion is Dawn (Brooke Smith), an eight-months-pregnant, no-nonsense gal whose wiles and cunning have already helped her dispatch several contestants. (The first shot of the film is of her, hugely pregnant, barging across a parking lot with a pistol in her hand — one of many audaciously ironic visual images we’re treated to in the movie.)
Her new opponents, introduced by your standard melodramatic narrator, are as follows: a sweet nurse named Connie (Marylouise Burke) who insists she cannot kill yet has Kevorkian tendencies; an unemployed family man named Tony (Michael Kaycheck); a loony old man named Franklin (Richard Venture); an 18-year-old daddy’s girl named Lindsay (Merritt Wever); and Jeff (Glenn Fitzgerald), a suicidal cancer patient.
The setting of this season’s “The Contenders” is Newburt, Conn. (“the Nutmeg State,” the narrator is careful to mention), which probably not coincidentally — you know how manipulative reality show producers can be — is Dawn’s hometown. In fact, we discover, she and Jeff had a relationship as high school students.
Except for the profanity (which should have been bleeped out for proper effect; a woman’s nudity is blurred, like it would be on TV) and the shortness of each episode, you’d never know you weren’t actually watching a TV show. It even pauses for commercial breaks (which last a nanosecond) and has a cliffhanger at the end of each episode.
Written and directed with precision detail by Daniel Minahan, “Series 7” couldn’t have come at a better time, what with “reality TV” being all the rage at the start of the new millennium. We’ve all been raised on TV; in fact, most of our parents (and even THEIR parents, in many cases) were raised on it, too. TV is boring now. In order for us to be entertained by it, we have to actually be part of it. Watching is boring.
One interesting aspect about “The Contenders” is that the contestants are chosen at random and apparently are powerless to refuse. In real life, people are willing to go on TV just to be famous, even if there’s no money involved; in this not-too-distant future world, people don’t just WANT to be on TV; they’re compelled to.
“Series 7,” then, is the logical extreme of the directions we’re already heading. Sooner or later, we’ll be bored with people stranded on desert islands, and someone will have to up the ante.
As if to smack us in the face for even thinking such a thing, the film is at times wantonly violent. One contestant is beaten to death with a cane (as family members look on), and there’s no sparing the blood when people are shot. Minahan seems to say, “You think the idea of a TV show where contestants have to kill each other is funny? Well, here’s how awful it would be if it really happened.”
Relentless morbid and incredibly, darkly funny, “Series 7” is a brilliant parody. The funniest thing is, we — the American TV audience — are the targets.
A (; )
In 2012, I reconsidered this movie for my Re-Views column at Film.com.