Series 7′ Tries Too Hard

By Jeremy Mathews

?Series 7: The Contenders?USA FilmsWritten and Directed by Daniel MinahanProduced by Jason Kilot, Katie Roumel, Christine Vachon, Joana VicenteStarring Brooke Smith, Glenn Fitzgerald, Marylouise Burke, Michael Kaycheck, Richard Venture, Merritt Wever 2 (out of four)

Ever heard a lame joke twice? Ever had someone insist on telling you a joke even though you already get it and it isn’t well told? That’s the feel of ?Series 7: The Contenders.?

The film is meant to be a satire aimed at reality programming. Six randomly selected contestants must kill each other until only one is left. Then, next week, the survivor must do it again with five new people.

The best-drawn character is Dawn (Brooke Smith), a pregnant woman who is the longest-running reigning champion in the show’s history. If she survives this ?series,? she gets to go home safely.

The five people she needs to kill are Connie (Marylouise Burke), the ER nurse who preaches morality; Franklin (Richard Venture), the crazy guy who doesn’t want to be on TV; Tony (Michael Kaycheck), the recently laid-off family man; and Lindsay (Merritt Wever), the 18-year-old with aggressive parents.

Writer/director Daniel Minahan creates convincing graphics, teasers and camera work. And the film was more radical when it was shot three years ago, keenly predicting the “Survivor” phenomenon.

The problem isn’t its societal observations, but its satirical hooks. The joke is repeated over and over again. A movie is in trouble when it’s shorter than 90 minutes and still seems too long.

Also, the murders serve to distance the tale from the real shows too much to criticize them. Better over-the-top stabs at television can be found in ?Being There? and ?The Truman Show.?

The movie’s most interesting element is its study of what people are willing to say about their personal lives to get on TV. A more hard-hitting commentary would focus on this aspect.

But people who want to watch those attention-starved people can just watch real reality television, which has already reached the point of self-satire.

And at least the self- centeredness of the subjects will be more apparent than that of the joketellers.