The past few years have been a defining time in television. The fickle public, tiring of cuddly sitcoms and depressing news magazines, seemed ready for something meatier to sink their canines into and, thanks to our European friends, a virtual buffet of new television options were placed before us. With such imports as Big Brother and Survivor, as well as America's own concoctions like The Real World and COPS, the wave of reality television hit like shaky-cam tsunami. Series 7: The Contenders is a fictional take on one man's vision of the next step in "entertainment"; a series equal parts Road Rules and The Running Man.
Dawn (Smith) is a nine-months pregnant champion of The Contenders, a lottery based, government sponsored game show in which people are randomly drawn to arm themselves and kill 5 other competitors. The prize is survival, and Dawn is one match away from freedom and a life with her unborn child. When the next match is moved to her Connecticut hometown, Dawn is faced with 5 new targets, including Jeff (Fitzgerald), her high school love who she still has feelings for.
Presented in the shot on video style of a multi-episode marathon of the series, Series 7 is very effective and biting satire that is as funny as it is disturbing. Using the same format of shows such as Fear Factor and Survivor, Series:7 is very convincingly presented as legitimate television. As a matter of fact, there were times when the "show" was ready to "cut to commercial" and I was ready to go grab a beer before I realized that I had just been duped! Obviously I knew better, but it's a testament to just how well this film is put together.
The only flaw with Series 7 is that sometimes it goes too far. We are shown lots of backstory and character exposition and this betrays the fact that we are, in fact, watching actors. I think this experiment would have been so much more effective had Minahan cast people off of the street as opposed to actors (a few of which you will recognize from other films). The reality element is lost in some obviously scripted and rehearsed moments, and would have been so much more tense had they been improvised readings by regular Jills and Joes.
Series 7, the DVD, is a pretty loaded affair, with a commentary by Minahan, deleted scenes, stills gallery, TV and theatrical trailers, The Sundance Filmmakers Lab Scenes, and filmographies for the cast and crew.
Highly recommended for both fans and foes of reality television, and basically anyone who has a sense of humor about the debauched nature of what our society considers entertainment.
The Romans had gladiators. We have Contenders.