85 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, February 9, 2001
Written & directed by Daniel Minahan
Starring Brooke Smith, Marylouise Burke, Glenn Fitzgerald, Michael Kaycheck, Richard Venture, Merritt Weaver, Donna Hanover, Angelina Phillips
This film is on the Worst of 2001 list.
Smug reality TV satire imagines contestants killing each other, but lacks even a hint of perspective
Satire has never been as ugly and unpleasant as it is in "Series 7," an extreme "what-if" spoof of reality TV that oversteps its intentions by making its plot, its atmosphere and its characters all so abhorrent and grating I walked out of the press screening after 20 minutes. And I had to really force myself to stay that long.
The movie isn't really a movie at all -- it's just shaky, "Cops"-style video footage from "The Contenders," a fictitious "reality show" in which common Americans are picked by lottery to try to assassinate each other.
The show's reigning champion (10 kills in two "tours") is Dawn (Brook Smith), a hard-bitten loser with a million axes to grind from her screwed-up upbringing. She's nine months pregnant and willing to do whatever it takes to make it through a third tour and thus free herself and her baby from the grip of the show.
Other contestants -- each more abrasive than the last -- include a teenage virgin (Merritt Weaver) with pushy parents, a dying cancer victim (Glenn Fitzgerald), an aging Bible-beater ER nurse (Marylouise Burke), a laid-off blue collar cokehead (Michael Kaycheck), and an elderly conspiracy nut (Richard Venture). They'll all armed to the teeth by the program -- whether they like it or not -- and ordered to take each other down while camera crews follow their every movement and record their incessant "Springer"-esque yammering about their terrible lives.
Writer-director Daniel Minahan presents the story only within the framework of the "Contenders" TV show, he provides no external context, no cultural perspective. As a result "Series 7" comes off just as pathetic and low as actual reality TV, but lacquered with a smug sense of judgmental parody.
With the exception of highly stressed "normal" people trying to kill each other on camera, the world of "Series 7" seems no different than the world we live in now. There's no sense of tweaked reality, like a "Twilight Zone" episode. There's no sense that this is a possible near future, like "RoboCop" (an equally violent and infinitely more deft social satire).
So, how did the society reach the point where real-life violent deaths are entertainment? Why don't the unwilling contestants shoot the show's staff and try to get away? What about lawsuits by the victims' families? Do people boycott the show or protest? If so, where, when and how? If not, why not?
Minahan is so focused on his gimmicky irony he fails to realize that without such context "Series 7" is every bit as tasteless, pointless, irritating and absurd as that which he mocks.
But it wasn't just the despicable nature of the film that sent me fleeing after less than two reels. The fact is, that on top of its other innumerable shortcomings, "Series 7" is just downright boring.