Series 7: The Contenders (2001)

Series 7: The Contenders (2001) movie poster

director Daniel Minahan
viewed: 05/01/2016

I joined Netflix in 2002 or so and I think that Series 7: The Contenders has sat in my DVD queue for all these many years.  It had been so long that anything specific about it was long washed from my memory, other than being a satire about reality TV and probably in particular either COPS or Survivor  I guess one of the interesting things about finally getting around to watching it 14 years later is how much the landscape has changed and yet how prescient and relevant it continues to be.

Shot on video and crafted to look like a reality-style program about a group of six “contenders” who are given a handgun and have to survive the game by eliminating their five other players.  The players are a cross section of this suburban Connecticut town, a range of folks from 18 to 72, all white.  The film breaks itself up with the going-to-commercial types of promos, cutting back into the hand-held action.

While the concept is quite akin to The 10th Victim (1965) and to a lesser extent Battle Royale (2000), it’s very much a product of its time.  And a well-made one at that.  For its low budget and rather non-famous cast, writer-director Daniel Minahan crafts a satire probably not too far removed from potential reality (as far as what this kind of show would look like if ever produced.)  It’s interesting that Minahan hasn’t made another film but has a sizable filmography from big name television shows in the intervening years.

There is certainly some clunkiness, especially around some of the more dramatic acting moments, but the movie skips along at a hurried pace and clocks in under 90 minutes.

It’s kind of interesting to think back on the early days of reality television before it became so amazingly ubiquitous and broad-ranging.  I found myself pondering what a version of this movie would look like today, made still on the cheap, what differences would come through, responding to the glut of reality content and its contemporary tone.

PS Though I did recognize the surprising occurrence of Will Arnett toward the end, I just no realized that the 18 year old was a young Merritt Wever!

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