Series 7: The Contenders

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 03/01/01 19:46:26

"Finally, crap TV for smart people in convenient movie form."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Series 7, The Contenders, is reality TV gone bad. As if it couldn't get any worse. With the success of shows like Survivor and MTv's Real World, it was bound to happen that someone would eventually show us all for a bunch of voyeuristic fools with no life. And that's what director, Daniel Minahan did. With two years of working on tabloid shows for Fox he is well equipped to feed us this nutritious meal wrapped in the pablum gloss of TV editing.

Of course, anyone who actually enjoys the mean spirited psychologic experiments filmed for mass consumption will probably be miffed that this movie took aim straight at their forehead.

But for the rest of us ...

it fucking rooooooled

*wheels tearing up the pavement*

Filmed like a reality television series complete with those edited clips for moving into and out of the commercials, this movie is at times darkly comic and I laughed at the irony, and at other times so genuine that I empathized with the characters in spite of myself.

Series 7 is about a television show called "The Contenders". A government lottery selects the players and the winner isn't the last on on the island. Its the last one alive. And then cameras follow the contestants around 24/7 filming the whole thing and broadcasting it to America. Needless to say it's a highly rated show.

To set the tone for this piece let me slow down over "government lottery". Media as not only culturally, but also legally, the governing body of society. Media critics and watchdogs who look at commercial media as a ruling force in peoples lives will appreciate this film as much as Network.

Fortunately, its not just a long winded rant against exploitative programming. There is a moment of directorial self-indulgence with a piece of video art embedded into the story. It made me think of that really great idea someone had in art school that never got made until now. Two gothy protags declare their alienation and wed each other in a suicide drama while Joy Division plays in the background. As far as I'm concerned, this is the best part of the whole movie. One of the characters, a semi-closeted gay man dying of testicular cancer, is also an artist. He paints portraits of typical suburban ranch style homes. The paintings are as banal as their subject matter and yet they are met with critical scorn. His wife justifies his work by saying, "He tells people the truth of their life. Some people can't handle that at all". I'm not a math whiz, but if his paintings are banal then I guess the truth about some people's life is that it is ...banal. And this film is unmistakably aimed at an audience whose only window into "reality" is through a television monitor, which, it would seem, is just about everybody.

Which makes perfect sense in a film that is out to critically wound middle american television tastes and ultimately the culture at large. Minihan seems more intent on rooting out middle class aesthetic values and depleting them. In one scene, a succesful suburban couple encourages her daughter to "succeed" by driving her to her kills and making sure she has her gun. When she comes back wounded they ask her if she got him. She didn't so they yell at her for not trying hard enough. It brought back all that "you must go to college, you must be successful, you must want to buy a house in the suburbs, shop at pottery barn and drive a nice car or you will be NOTHING!" crap that was shoved down my middle class throat. And I guess I did go to college, but then I got over it and now only want to smash the control machine.

Series 7 is as smart as it is appalling and the premise allows the characters to come off as people who would ordinarily think murder is barbaric but because this is television, it is somehow okay. So we get a meek mannered nurse who must become a human hunter rather than a healer. And all the while, neither the audience nor the contestants questions the depravity of the bloody spectacle but accepts it as readily as it accepts the inviolable status of television.

Surveillance culture is given a nod in Series 7 as well. Surveillance cameras are everywhere in our lives, and with the help of a highly watched television show, it just might be possible to monitor anyone's whereabout.

The surprise ending is the biggest fuck you of all and when all of us who have been railing about television and the crap that not only gets produced, but consumed really get to feel smug and self-righteous. It's also a hilarious parody of the production of "reality" tv and a slap in the face of an audience who can't tell the difference between the show and real life. A slap they probably need.

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