Reality television holds a strange place in the modern entertainment industry. Many people claim to hate it – either due to its overall low quality, or because of the negative impact it seems to be having on more traditional television entertainment. Yet, due to the sheer variety of different shows out there, many of us may still find one or two that become something of a guilty pleasure – shows that we watch, even as we deride reality television as a whole. On the other hand, the constant need to bring something new to the table has led to some spectacularly awful examples – shows where the desire to shock viewers into watching has seemed to override any common sense. And, it is this very trend which is given the satirical treatment in Series 7 – a particularly dark black comedy first released back in 2001, written and directed by Danial Minahan
The Contenders is an exciting and wildly popular reality series with an incredibly simple premise. Contestants are chosen at random, through a lottery beginning each new season, and given a gun. Their task is then to hunt down and kill the other contestants – before any of the others have the chance to do the same to them. Losing the game equals death, and the winner is the last contestant left standing. Win three times, and you're free – until then, you have no choice but to play. Because, of course, in order to keep things interesting, contestants aren't given any choice in the matter – once they are selected, they're in the game. Refusing to play will just make them an easy target for those that are playing.
The film covers the seventh season of The Contenders ('series' being the British term for the American 'season' – why an American film would use the British term isn't really addressed). It's focus is predominantly on the current champion, Dawn. Heavily pregnant, and entering her third season, Dawn is determined to win so that she can finally leave the show and get on with her life. However, things are complicated by the fact that the current season is set in her own home town, and includes her ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Norman – who is currently terminally ill. The other contestants in this current season include: Connie Trabucco, a middle-aged nurse; Anthony Reilly, husband and father of three; elderly retiree Franklin James; and, teenage student Lindsay Berns. Will Dawn win out once more, and finally earn her freedom? Or, will she be bested by one of the other contestants? Well, you'll just have to watch to find out.
The film goes out of its way to mimic the style of presentation of 'real' reality television. Camera crews follow each of the contestants as they go about the important task of hunting down and killing the others – giving each scene the same level of realism as actual reality television. Cheesy music and overly dramatic narration is used to inject even more drama into the events being portrayed – once again, just like in an actual reality show. Most importantly, though, the performance of each member of the cast is really quite impressive. Each actor plays their role absolutely straight – balancing out the absurd, and really very dark, humour of the situation with an actual sense of tension. One question that's never addressed, though, is exactly what sort of world these characters live in that allows a show like this to exist in the first place – that's really something you'll need to just accept.
This is a film that definitely deserves to be better known than it currently is. However, it clearly isn't a film for everyone. Series 7 leans much more heavily toward comedy and satire, then drama – though, its humour is of a particularly black sort which some viewers may find unappealing. For those that do enjoy the occasional black comedy, though, Series 7 is definitely worth tracking down.